I recently attended a storytelling workshop at a transgender conference. I’d received an email from my therapist suggesting that the workshop might hold some interest to me. I’d grown accustomed to at least trying whatever suggestions my therapist threw at me. Even though there was never a specific directive, I figured when she mentioned something, she must have a reason, right? So, I spent the afternoon in the workshop. And I wrote. Joan Lipkin, from That Uppity Theatre Company, co-facilitated the workshop with Kage Fox, a transgender man. I’d known Joan for many years and Kage only months, and they created an inviting environment that easily encouraged putting pen to paper. Their assigned writer’s prompt was an open door to telling my story – albeit a story I never intended telling. That story is included in these words. That first story was the beginning and begat other stories – it was the jumping off point to explicate the year of my transition from female to male, to revisit some of the messages from the past that perpetuated the process, and reflect on the unlikely and unexpected partnership that has been my immersion and exploration into therapy.
This is that journey.
And here is the story from the workshop – from a writer’s prompt instructing us to find and share the words to describe a time when we felt as our authentic selves. This was the first to come to my mind. I was under medical voice rest that day, so a friend read my story at the conference, so some of you may have already heard this. For those of you who haven’t – here it is.
It was mid-summer in 1976. I was twelve years old and it was one of the few Saturday afternoons when my dad was off work. We lived on a farm in east-central Iowa, surrounded by cornfields and dotted by out-buildings in various conditions of disrepair. I saw my dad talking to the landlord who owned the farm where we rented the big old farmhouse. I didn’t want to interfere with the grownups talking so I stayed nearby – far enough to make it look like I wasn’t listening, but close enough to hear them speak. Frank, the landlord, was explaining to Dad that the old piggery – that was the building where pigs once lived – needed to be torn down and the old lumber hauled away. Frank asked Dad to find a farm hand to do the work and offered what I thought was a small fortune to get it done.
The next day just before the sun came up and right after my dad left for work, I put on my jeans and boots, and headed outside. I stopped by the garage and grabbed a hammer and pry bar and set to work. By noon I had the old wooden shingled roof in a pile on the concrete pad next to the old building. After a quick drink of well water from the garden hose and a tomato from the garden – a country lunch – I went back to work. Throughout the day one of my brothers kept stopping by to tell me that I was going to “get in trouble” for using dad’s tools and that they had hired “one of the guys” to do the work. I told him to get lost. In my mind I was exactly the guy for the job!
It was a fairly small building, and only took a few more hours to drop the rest of the it to the ground. By late afternoon I had burned all of the wood so it wouldn’t have to be hauled away. By the time my dad got home from work, I had hosed down the concrete pad and was sweeping up the nails and metal hardware that wouldn’t burn into an old coffee can. My dad pulled up the drive and I handed him the heavy coffee can. He knew exactly what I’d done, smiled, and said, “I guess I owe you $200.” Then he called “the guy” and told him he didn’t need to stop by after all.