When he first moved into my apartment building, I knew him as Jason. Later on, when we first kissed, I would call her Vivian.*
I was an apartment manager, a job that provided me with a means to pay the rent while I struggled to complete my PhD. The door to Jason's apartment was a mere 20 feet from mine, yet I did not know until she gave her move-out notice that she was transgender.
She had lived and worked her outside life in 'boy mode' for 35 years, she said to me as I asked her why she was moving out. But she had come to realize that she was meant to be a girl, that she was a girl all along on the inside, but born into a body that read to others as 'male.'
As she stood in my doorway telling me all of this, I looked into her eyes, and there was such sweetness, such vulnerability, a shyness I was all too familiar with in my own life, for I was always a painfully shy girl as well. Yet also, there was a joy and excitement that reverberated through her words, the opening of endless and mysterious possibilities. I was struck by her candor. She was like a flame, fragile flickering, burning bright. And I would become her moth flying ever too close.
I wanted to know more.
She said she had broken things off with her longtime girlfriend, and that another girl was hitting on her at work, but when she came out and told her the plans for a sex change, she had rejected her. And I said, "Well, I think that girl was an idiot; you are obviously going to be, and already are, a very lovely lady, and a very desirable one at that."
And she looked at me with those vulnerable, sad yet somehow defiantly flaming eyes of hers, and asked me to go out dancing with her that next night.
A knock on the door. And there Vi was, all dressed up in girl mode, looking for all the world like Madonna in her 80's like a virgin era. Fishnet stockings on her lean, 6 foot tall frame. Makeup, perfection. Hair, in perfect ringlets, like the statues of the Greek goddesses, and a pink bow on the side part. She smiled at me, fire ever in her eyes. I blushed and laughed aloud out of sheer nervousness. And then we were off to the White Horse, a local gay bar in town.
It had been 8 years since I had been out on a date with anyone, boy or girl. 8 years since I had been kissed, and 13 years since I had made love to anyone. Yes, it had been a long time since someone looked at me with genuine desire in their eyes. It was electrifying, life-affirming.
What had transpired to cause such a gap would fill a volume, but it was comprised of 7 years of anorexia, trying to get myself the perfect body, perfectly thin, to lose enough weight where I stopped getting my period for 7 years, where my breasts shrunk from DD to B, where my hips stuck out dangerously, my ribs, I could count every one. Years of trying to not be a girl at all, and then slowly, painfully, coming to accept myself. This was followed by a relationship with a much older man, a professor from Cal, a man I went to mass with every day, a man who promised to marry me and love me forever, a man I gave my heart to, a man who would refuse to touch me more than a peck on the cheek, claiming to wait until marriage, a man who I slowly grew to realize wasn't attracted to me, or to women, at all. A man who blamed my imperfect body for his lack of desire. A man I lost my soul to for a while. A man who broke off the engagement, citing that I was just too sad for him. Such a sad girl.
Then to grad school, where I found my soul again, studying theology, studying what made me passionate, the art of the middle ages, and then to the PhD program, studying the relics and reliquaries of my Catholic faith. I loved it.
And, two years prior almost to the day I met Vi, an unexpected setback. The doctors called it a psychotic break, a nervous breakdown caused by untreated bipolar disorder combined with the stress and long hours of my PhD studies. I took a year leave of absence from my school, which stretched to 2. Sunk into depression like into quicksand: the harder I fought it, the more entrenched I became. Lost my grant money and scholarships. Resolved to never return.
And there I was, 35, mentally broken, lonely and scared, 40 lb. heavier version of my once slim and glorious self, and yet Vi was attracted to ME? What a miraculous thing!
We sat at the bar, talking, learning about each other, our pasts, what we wanted from life, our hopes and dreams. And we danced, just one dance. As we walked back to our seats, I grabbed her arm. We sat, and our legs melted into one another’s, and we kissed.
We kissed and kissed, tongues exploring one another, we kissed for what seemed like hours, touching each other’s bodies there in the dark corner of the bar. I felt young again. She kissed with such passion and abandon.
She said lets go walk to the park, and we sat on the park bench, well past midnight now, talking, talking and kissing. I didn't want the night to end.
She told me all about her coming transformation, the hormone treatments she would be starting in a week or so, the laser hear treatments, the plastic surgery, the breast implants she wanted, the plastic surgery to feminize her already surprisingly feminine, perfect face. I was fascinated, how much work was to be done on someone whom I thought already was perfect, and perfectly female.
"I don't want to be like the others, I don't want people to see me as a 'She-Male,'" She said, “I want to pass. I want, when it’s all over, that no one, no one seeing me on the street, on the BART, no one who sees me close up, to know I was ever a boy."
And I identified with her struggle somehow. I never felt like I fit in either, always kept my distance from others, never fit in with girls or boys, always lonely, never found my tribe. How lucky I was, I thought to myself, to be born a cis woman, to be born in a body that, although it had taken years of strife and self-abuse, I learned to accept as part of me.
We went back to her apartment, back to her room; we lay naked in her bed, making out, her makeup eventually coming off and covering my bare, makeup-less face, exploring, giving each other pleasure. And as she fell exhausted into my arms fast asleep, I started to laugh, waking her. "What is so funny?" she asked. I tried to explain: I was laughing because for the first time in a very, very long time I was happy. Genuinely full of joy. And I was so grateful for this beautiful creature whose body twined around mine so seamlessly as she slept.
The next day she stopped by my place to give me a kiss before she went to work. How sweet. She called me later that day, her voice soft as a girls on the phone. We made plans to go out again that next night.
She stopped by early before the club and we sat on my bed, kissing, getting her perfectly painted face smeared all over mine.
As I lay wrapped in her arms, she said to me, "You need to finish school. It is your mind, how smart you are that attracts me." And I knew she was right. It had been my dream deferred and dried up in the despair of the last 2 years, but it was the one thing I was always good at, studying and writing academic papers. I had insights into the world of art and religion that others just didn't have; I had something to give to the world, something beautiful in my mind. I had to face my fears, meet my adviser, and find a way to get back into the PhD program.
We went to a tranny show, musical numbers performed by a troop of professional impersonators. We had a blast, and I met his best friend and future roommate, a fellow trans girl with long blonde hair...
We ate sushi at an after-midnight joint, and her friend dropped us off at our place, "See you ladies later," she smiled as she drove off.
And back to my room this time, her clothes coming off in an instant, wrapped in each other's arms like it was the most natural thing in the world. And then we made love. And she said quietly after it was over, “I hate having a penis.” As she slept, I began to cry.
The next morning, we lay in the sunlight, naked, and she rubbed her hand down my back, telling me how beautiful my body was. We kissed deeply, and she was off to work.
We hung out again a day later; she made me dinner, we spent the night cuddling. How I longed for so many years to be held in someone's arms as I slept! I got emotional, my eyes filling with tears as she lay asleep beside me. I cannot let her see me cry, I thought, quickly brushing away the tears.
She called me a couple days later. her voice was a little different, in pain. "Can you come over?" she said, in a voice urgent yet weak, and I knew she needed my company. I dropped what I was doing and ran down the hall.
She had started the hormone treatments a few days before, and the change was surprisingly rapid. Her head was hurting. "I... feel... so... I cannot... describe it," she said quietly, and her head of glorious curls lay limp in my lap. I tried to reassure her, that it was normal to feel side effects after taking the medications, that these would subside soon. She was there in my arms, but curiously distant, chatting away about how she was feeling with no more testosterone in her body, with estrogen flowing into her mind; she spoke at length about all of the medical treatments that were laid out before her, a seemingly endless to-do list of items to transform her into a more perfect version of herself. I chalked up her emotional distance to the hormones and her headache.
We hung out again that evening, camping out on the floor of her living room because the bed felt too uncomfortable on her hormonal body. We didn't kiss, and our bodies didn't intertwine. She was not feeling quite well, she wasn't acting quite like herself, and it hurt me to know she was hurting.
I didn't hear from her for a week, then ran into her in the hallway. I was excited to see her, I couldn't wait to tell her that I had spoken to my adviser and was working out a way to return to my studies in the fall. I wanted to tell her all my fears about it, and how grateful I was that she urged me to go back. I wanted to hug and kiss her. I wanted to cuddle.
And she was excited too when I saw her in the hall, but distracted. "I quit my job," she exclaimed. "Oh, wow!" I exclaimed. But, I thought to myself, this is the job that is paying for you medical treatments, your health insurance. I thought to myself, this is the job that is paying your rent, paying for your new lifestyle. Quit, with no notice, no plans for the future. "Let's go to your apartment and tell me all about it," I said, grabbing her by the hand. She pulled away.
"My new roommate is coming over; we are going out to the movies, no time to talk." And I turned around and her new roommate, the blonde trans girl, was there walking up the steps. And her roommate... she looked at me, with a look of barely veiled disdain. What is going on?, I thought. And they began to chat with one another about show-times and clothes and it was like I had melted into the hallway wall. I was no longer there at all. I was invisible. I was nothing.
I didn't know why, I was never told so by her, but at that moment I knew: it was over. And I went into my apartment, sat on the kitchen floor, and I wept.
The anger, the rejection, and most of all not being given a reason why. So, so, just so hurt. But I would not let her know this. She would not see me hurting; I would not call her or write to her. She had moved on, and it wasn't for me to slow down her perilous flight into the sun.
But Oh I cried! I cried and cried, over every rejection; I cried bitter, bitter tears for all the years I wasted trying to starve myself into perfection. But most of all, I cried tears over all those lonely days and nights when I was crying and had no one to talk to, no one to hold me as I cried. And I sat there alone in my room, holding myself with my arms, sobbing, longing as I have done countless times over the years, for someone, anyone, any human at all, to hold me, if only for a moment; for someone to come and tell me it would be okay. That I would be okay. I cried for the days I spent at the hospital, not knowing if I was losing my mind, without a friend in the world to visit me. I cried for all the days I wished and begged my parents, 3000 miles away, would come to visit just to see if I was still alive, I cried for them not caring how far their daughter had fallen into the deepest, 2 year-long pit of depression. I cried for all the missed opportunities, for failing at school, for failing myself over and over and over again. I cried for all the times I would beg and scream at God to please, send someone, anyone to help me, to show me a way out of the mess of my life, to send me a Comforter like He promised, and only hearing the Great Silence in response. I cried to Jesus because 'even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table,' and all I got were crumbs. I screamed aloud at the walls of my apartment, at no one at all, daydreaming of confronting Vi with my hurt, demanding an answer to why, shouting, “I wasn't some one-night stand you know! I wasn't some trifle for you to play with then throw away! You can't just toy with me then turn to stone! I am a girl, and you treated me like a cheap whore! You claim to be a girl, but you fucked me over and went from fire to ice just like every other guy I've known! I WASN'T JUST A ONE-NIGHT STAND!! You cared for me, I cared for you! Why? WHY??!!! Where did you go, why don't you care at all?!!” And then I collapsed to the floor, sobbing, hitting the concrete walls with my fists, knowing I would never be able to say these things to her. And I cried for Vi as well, knowing that the road ahead of her was going to be so much harder than she could imagine. I cried because I knew that, like me, she would never quite fit in; like me, always be a scared little girl stuck in a man's inscrutable world. Like me, she would always be looking over her shoulder, wondering if she 'passed.'
Over the next two weeks, I keep running into Vi, like constantly. Multiple times a day, bumping into her on the stairs, in the hallway, the garage. And always the same embarrassed smile, the veiled eyes smoldering, and walking speedily past like those new-fangled fast zombies in World War Z. I went out to go to 10 pm candlelight-mass, and who was right at the front gate with her new roommate? Yes, that's right, Vivian, looking fabulous. I come home from church, who's walking down the stairs? Yup, that's right. Vivian. I go for my morning walk, and I just so happened to come home a few minutes early because I had to do some work for the landlord. As I approach the front gate, who's on the inside of the gate literally opening the door at the SAME TIME? Yup, you got it, its Vi.
And I think to myself, does God just hate me or what? Is it some weird Karma?
I play it cool, smile and say a quick, 'Hi!' without missing a step, as she flutters past like I'm not there at all, like there was no history between us. I play it cool, but really, I just want to grab her by the neck and be like, 'WHY? WHY are you treating me like a stranger?" Fucker. Fuck. Her.
A few more days, and she would be moving out.
I wrote to my boss, telling him that last-minute plans would prevent me from being home on that Friday afternoon to do the inspection for Jason's apartment.
Visions of telling Vi off, of revealing how much I hurt, of hurting her in return, faded away. My eyes hardened in the flame of my resolve. There would be no emotional outburst, no drama, no confrontation, no closure.
She would never see me lose my cool, and most of all, she would never, never see me cry.
I spent the day that Vi moved out of the apartment complex hiking in the Berkeley Hills; visiting a friend who works at Strawberry Canyon; sitting alone at Peet's; going out to a movie; sitting in the theater, alone, watching Brad Pitt save his family from ravenous, speedy zombies with glistening, fiery, otherworldly eyes.
I returned home after dark, grabbed the master keys, and let myself into Vi's apartment.
She was my Adonis turned Aphrodite. She was my creator, and my destroyer. She was a goddess trapped in a god's body.
And she was gone.
The room and I stood in silent protest.
I walked slowly through her empty apartment, stripped clean of any trace of history, of her story. And as I moved towards the window to pull down the blinds, something shiny caught my eye.
There, on the window-sill: a single, spiraled strand of hair.
*names have been changed to protect anonymity
top image: Hermaphrodite endormi. Roman, 2nd Century C.E. Louvre, Paris.
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