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Gender Failure: Highly readable, highly recommended

genderfailureI got an advance copy of Gender Failure, by Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon. It’s not quite available in the stores yet, but it’s coming soon and I urge you to get yourself a copy. It’s an extraordinary book.

I loved the show Gender Failure so I knew before reading it that I’d love the book. The book is just like the show except it’s got a bunch of extra goodies.

Ivan and Rae take turns telling stories about their experiences of being trans throughout their lives. Some of the stories were illuminating, like “How to Be Gay When the Gays Won’t Have You.” Some were laugh-out-loud funny, like “A Cautionary Tale.” And some were burst-into-tears sad, like “Rosie.” (If you saw someone weeping into a book on the #95 during the morning commute last Monday, that was probably me, reading “Rosie.”)

Gender identity can be complicated stuff. What I admire most about Ivan and Rae is how they find the right balance – they don’t over-explain and they don’t oversimplify. They’re educational without ever being teachy. Storytelling is the perfect medium for humanizing theory.

I think the key to their success lies in their unflinching honesty. They have the guts to put their own naked truth on the page, and to resist the temptation to cloak it in extra words. There is something, I think, in all of us that recognizes and responds to the raw, naked, truth when we see it. I think it brings out the best in us – maybe our own raw vulnerable nuggets of humanity.

Anyway. Extraordinary book, and highly readable too. I recommend it to anyone who loves good writing and good storytelling, especially if you have an interest in trans issues but even if you don’t. Five stars, two thumbs up, worth a second read.


Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon will be in Ottawa on April 25th at the Ottawa Writers Festival. Details here. Visit Arsenal Pulp Press for more information about the book.

Such sad news

The Humane Society's picture of Duncan, back when his name was Frazier.

First picture of Duncan (OHS 2008)

I have such sad news to share with you.

Duncan Donut, the Glorious Dogcat, the big old Puddin’head, the best cat ever…Duncan died on Thursday afternoon. I know some of you were very fond of Duncan, and I’m so sorry.

He was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease a couple of years ago, but he weathered it pretty well. It was a gradual descent, and he was a trooper. He really only declined sharply in the few days before his death. On Thursday we took him to Dr. Hughes, and she said we could either throw everything at him in terms of treatment and hope for the best, or we could let him go. We decided to let him go. GC and my son and I were all stroking him and crying when he died. Dr. Hughes was sad too.

Duncan deserves a kick-ass memorial blog post, but I don’t feel I can do him justice right now. So I’m just going to link to some old blog posts about him, and share some pictures.

With the Zoom Blanket

With the Zoom Blanket

Christmas 2013

Christmas 2013

Moving day - February 2014

Moving day – February 2014

Tank Top Tuesday

Tank Top Tuesday

Snoozing with GC

Snoozing with GC

Snoozing with Zoom

Snoozing with Zoom

Duncan always loved bath time

Duncan always loved bath time

Playing with yarn

Playing with yarn

Helping block a sweater

Helping block a sweater

Just hanging out

Just hanging out

Duncan in a sunbeam

Duncan in a sunbeam

The Move - Part I

So we moved! It was stressful, as moving always is, and we’re still digging out from under all the boxes, but at least the move is behind us.

The movers were great. We’d never heard of them but they worked hard and fast, they were friendly and nice, they treated our stuff and our home with respect, and they charged less than half of what we were quoted by the other moving companies we talked to.

Here’s my favourite line of the day:

The mover was taking the legs off a table to make it fit better into the moving van.

“Will you be putting the legs back on when we get to the other house?” asked GC.

“I can do whatever you want,” the mover replied. “I can even make you soup if you want.”

Almost there

You know what? I don’t care how scattered or stressed I am, how many hours of sleep I have lost to insomnia, how many IQ points I have lost to meds, or how bloody awful I look and feel. The moving truck is pulling up to my front door in an hour and 19 minutes. In about 8 hours the move will be over. I will be able to stop dismantling my life and start putting it all back together again. Life will start to get better again. Right?

Also, I look like shit

My neurologist switched me to daily Topamax for migraine prevention a couple of months ago. Topamax is an anti-seizure medication. At first it didn’t work. I had a non-stop headache for weeks. But then the headache went away. I haven’t had a migraine for a few weeks now, which is nice. But I still have the Topamax side effects.

The big one is cognitive impairment. One of Topamax’s nicknames is Dopamax, because it makes you dopey.

I have very little working memory. I can’t keep anything in mind long enough to make good use of it. I also have trouble with reading comprehension. Things I would normally figure out quickly – like instructions aimed at average people – leave me frustrated, because I forget the first part before I get to the end. I have to keep starting over. Everything seems too complicated, even things that I know aren’t complicated.

Then there’s the place in my brain where I store useful information, like passwords, phone numbers, names, and everyday words. This information is only intermittently available now.

I struggle with seeing how things relate to each other. I can only look at one thing at a time. I can look at one sentence, one object, or one idea, the simpler the better. I have a hard time trying to grasp the big picture, anything in a larger context, anything in motion.

I also struggle to explain things, or to ask a simple question. Writing takes much longer than it used to, and speaking is downright clumsy.

I used to be a morning person. Since I was sharpest in the morning, I’d plan my day accordingly. I’d use my mornings for things that required the most creativity or brain power, and my afternoons for other things. I’m no longer a morning person. I wake up exhausted and mentally sluggish, like my brain is full of glue, and I go downhill from there.

Also, I look like shit.

I know my impairment is noticeable to other people, too. Strangers are treating me differently. People who work in customer service are taking more time with me, they’re slowing down and explaining things to me, they’re offering to write things down for me. I think this is great. While it’s distressing for me to be noticeably ‘slow’, it’s reassuring that other people are accommodating my needs as required, and not being jerks about it. (Ironically, the exception is my neurologist, who kept me waiting for 45 minutes, then rushed me through my appointment and had no time for questions.)

The timing sucks. I need my brain to be working at full capacity – and then some – until the end of March. I’d rather have migraines than these side effects, but even if I were to stop taking Topamax today, it would take a couple of months to taper off, get rid of the side effects and get my brain back.

The neurologist says the side effects might go away on their own.

Nothing that a whack on the head can't fix

I’ve been crazy busy lately, at work and at home. The move is scheduled for February 1st, so I’ve been packing and decluttering and running stuff over to Value Village and throwing stuff out. (Remember that hair dye sample folder that I grabbed out of a hair stylist’s garbage five years ago and thought I’d make art out of it someday? Tomorrow is garbage day, and it’s on the curb.)

We’ve been meeting with real estate agents and contractors and movers and electricians and blind people (the sighted kind). GC has been learning how to install toilets and light fixtures and quarter round. We’ve been deciding on things like area rugs and light fixtures and blinds, and then second-guessing some of our decisions, and returning things.

Work has been insanely busy too, and will continue to be insanely busy until the end of March. The other day I found out that I will have to make a presentation at a conference in May, and I don’t even have time to panic about it even though I have a phobia of public speaking. I immediately scheduled myself for Toastmasters meetings on Thursdays at lunchtime so I can conquer my fear of public speaking by May.

Anyway, here’s something interesting. For about the last six weeks I’ve had a headache almost all the time. It’s a side effect of some medication I’ve been taking to prevent migraines. (The irony is not lost on me.) On Saturday night, GC and I decided to go out for dinner to celebrate six months of wedded bliss, using a gift certificate that a certain Dwarf and Woodland Creature gave us when we tied the proverbial knot. After enjoying a lovely dinner, we very carefully picked our way across the icy parking lot, and right in front of our car, I wiped out fast and hard. It was a two-part wipe-out. My legs flew up into the air, I landed flat on my back, and then my head smashed onto the ice.

I didn’t lose consciousness, but it was all very jarring. GC and several passers-by gathered around and urged me to stay put, and I didn’t feel like getting up anyway. Someone called an ambulance. (There were 40 calls for ambulances yesterday for people falling on ice.) I didn’t think I was hurt badly, just a little rattled, and after lying on a slab of ice for a few minutes I was shivering.

The paramedics arrived and sprinkled salt and sand and loaded me up and got me into the ambulance and once I was upright and warm I felt just fine, so I declined a ride to the hospital. At one point I noticed I was still clutching my fortune cookie fortune in my hand.

“What does it say?” asked the paramedic.

“When one door closes, another one opens,” I said.

“Hmmm,” she said. “It’d be better if it said ‘Watch your step.'”

I laughed.

You know what’s really cool? That headache that I’ve had most of the time for the past six weeks? I don’t have it today. I think that whack on the head cured me!

Bunny fokz is weeyud

Let me just say this right upfront: I used to think bird people were a little odd. Bird people don’t hold a candle to bunny folk. I’m not naming names because I don’t know if bunny folk even know how odd they are. But ever since my charming little bunny, Ivan, came into my life, I’ve found myself crossing virtual paths with some awfully eccentric bunny folk. Maybe weird people are attracted to bunnies, or maybe spending time with bunnies turns people weird, but there’s clearly some sort of association, so I’m going to be keeping a very close eye on myself.

Sparkle wearing her engagement ring

Sparkle wearing her engagement ring

I recently received an invitation to Sparkle’s Bridal Shower and Master Hope’s Stag Party. I was too busy packing and renovating to go to a rabbit’s bridal shower. But this was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things, and I try to give serious consideration to all once-in-a-lifetime things. Besides, it was a virtual party, so I only had to go as far as my couch.

It was a spa-themed shower, and this is a small representative sampling of the photos. There was music, food, gifts, videos, all kinds of interesting things.

bouquet

toasting

brideandgroom

guests

The weirdest thing about bunny folk is not that they have pretend parties for their bunnies. (Where I come from – the land of guinea pig and groundhog people – that would actually be considered relatively normal.) The weirdest thing about bunny folk is that they talk bunny talk – and not just at bunny parties either.

Bunny talk looks like this:

“Twinkle ere, mez wanna toast da hoppy copule. Master hope yoz twreats ma twin sissy yike a princess anz ford dat mez lubs yoz. Sparkle yoz ib ma sissy we bins tagefether since birf mez lubs yoz wif alld ob ma heart. Ma wish ford da bof of yoz is dat yoz make eachoder smile ebery dez, makes eachoder laugh ebery dez, and shard a quiet momnet ebery dez ta tellz eachoder that yoz lubs dem. Raise yoz glass Cheers”

For some bunny folk, bunny talk is their language of choice. It’s their first language, the language they write in on Facebook. You can’t help but wonder if it’s what they speak out loud – at home, to their children, in bed, to their husbands, at work, at parent-teacher interviews, to the customer support technician at Rogers.

Anyway. As much as I adore Ivan, I don’t think I’m in imminent danger of becoming a weird bunny person. I have no ability, or even any urge, to speak bunny talk…although I have noticed that my comprehension is improving.

blippersIn other news, Judy (Robin’s Judy) came to visit during a whirlwind trip through Ottawa the other day, and look what she brought me! She made them herself! Bunny slippers! Aren’t they the sweetest things you’ve ever seen in your whole entire life? I love, love, love my bunny slippers. (And as you can see, Ivan likes my bunny slippers too.)

Fifty shades of white

GC and I have kind of lived together for years. But our living arrangement has always involved maintaining two houses, with his stuff in his house and my stuff and us and the animals in my house. We want to consolidate so we’ll have one mortgage payment instead of two, and one of each bill instead of two. So we’re fixing up his house (painting and replacing some flooring and changing some light fixtures and toilets and window coverings) and then we’re going to move in there. Then we’ll fix up my place and sell it.

Even though we’re not doing the actual work ourselves, there’s still a lot of work we have to do. Like figuring out what to do, and researching, comparing, planning, thinking, deciding, and shopping. And then we have to find people to actually do the work, check their references, schedule them, communicate with them, supervise them, and pay them.

It’s important to do research, but it’s also important to stop doing research and make decisions. The law of diminishing returns applies here. There’s only so much you need to know about toilets, for example, before you’re ready to pick a toilet. Still, it’s easy to disappear down rabbit holes of toilet research, and worse yet, to be that person at the Christmas party who is apparently obsessed with toilets. Ahem.

You can spend $79 on a toilet, or you can spend $6,000 on a toilet. There IS a difference. The fanciest toilet we’ve actually seen with our very own eyes is at Preston Hardware. It’s the one that senses you’re in the room and greets you by raising its seat in anticipation. You can’t NOT pay attention to a toilet like that. It was all I could do not to start a conversation with it. It even comes with a remote control, which is what caught GC’s attention.

“But what does the remote control actually control?” asked GC.

Apparently the remote controls things like seat heat and individual preferences for bottom-washing features. Maybe one person likes to have their bottom blasted with hot water and then dried with a cyclone of hot air, while another person prefers a gentler cleansing, and a delicate drying cycle. That’s what the remote’s for. (Frankly, I can’t quite wrap my head around the idea of washing anything in the toilet.)

Anyway, we chose the American Standard Studio Elongated-Bowl Right-Height toilet at about $400 each. We chose it mostly because we had grown weary of toilet shopping, and there it was. But then, a couple of days later, at a Christmas party, a toilet expert told me that I might find the Right-Height toilet the wrong height because I’m short. My feet will dangle, like they did when I was a child.

“You should have done like me and sat on it while we were in the showroom,” said GC. (Is it just me? Was I being a prude, or would you also have felt funny about sitting on the toilet in the showroom at Preston Hardware?)

Anyway. We’re very research-oriented, but GC and I are not very good at decision-making. Here’s what we tend to do. We get a general idea of what we want. For example, say we want white paint for our baseboards and window trim. We go to the store to buy white paint. We discover that there are 50 shades of white. We take 50 paint chips home. We become absolutely convinced that 49 of these are the wrong shade of white and one is the right shade of white, but we don’t know which is which. We look at them a lot. We talk about them. We google them. We ask our friends which ones they like best. We discuss the names of the colours and which names we like best. Would you rather be surrounded by Snowfall White or Winter White? Would White Christmas feel all wrong in July? We buy samples of our five favourites and paint little bits of trim in different shades. We decide they all look identical or they all look completely different, or they inexplicably seem to change radically from one moment to the next. We become paralyzed by indecision. We no longer trust our senses.

Finally we meet with the painter and start to go into the whole complicated history of our dilemma. He cuts us off. “Oxford White,” he says. “Always use Oxford White.”

It’s nice seeing it all falling into place, though. At this point, the painting’s done (Revere Pewter and Oxford White, an unbeatable combination), most of the floors are done, the blinds are ordered, the light fixtures are purchased, the electrician’s booked, the new toilets are being delivered on Monday. It looks pretty damned good.

Now I just need to declutter, pack, move, fix this place up and sell it. (It sounds so simple when I put it like that.)

spacestation(By the way, this is the most expensive toilet in the world, although technically it’s not really in the world. It’s the space station toilet. It cost $19 million. It has leg braces to keep people from floating away, and special fans that suck all of the waste into a septic tank that converts the liquids into drinking water.)

Alessandra

Death is such a sudden and jarring thing. It doesn’t matter if the person was living on borrowed time, or if death came swooping in out of the blue, years ahead of schedule, it seems we are always caught off guard. Never more so, I think, than when somebody’s child dies. Even if that child is an adult, if they have a parent, they’re somebody’s child.

Alessandra was the beloved daughter of a dear friend of mine. I knew her when she was a little girl but hadn’t seen her in years. Much had changed for her in that time. She’d grown up, and she’d faced challenges with her mental health, which had led to challenges with her physical health, and these challenges had led to other challenges, as disabilities so often do.

A couple of weeks ago, Alessandra died unexpectedly, of natural causes, in her sleep, at the hospital. Because of the level of care she required, and the critical shortage of supportive housing in the community, Alessandra had lived mostly in hospitals in recent years. She was at a good place when her life ended – she was happy, in love, and things were going well.

There was an open mic at the memorial service, and people were invited to share their stories, memories and thoughts. Her mom started, and was followed by a steady stream of people who shared their memories with great love, humour, tenderness and respect. It was the most touching celebration of a life I’ve ever attended. It left me wishing I’d taken the time to know her as an adult, and to be her friend.

Here are some of the things I now know about her – some of these things I remember from when she was a little girl, some are things her mom has told me over the years, and some are things I learned on Thursday.

Alessandra was a larger-than-life presence at the hospital, and made friends with all the nurses, patients, and hospital staff. Everywhere she went, she talked to everybody. She got people to tell her their stories, and she remembered all these stories. She also shared her own stories. She loved people and introduced everybody to everybody else. Alessandra’s version of “us” included everybody; nobody was an outsider. She was generous in every sense of the word. She attracted people into her life who could love her absolutely for who she was, and vice versa. She lived wholeheartedly in the moment. She was spontaneous. She was intense. She was kind. She was loyal. She was brave. She loved animals. She sang. She was always in motion, even after she ended up in a wheelchair. She danced with Propeller Dance. She made friends easily. She lived life large. She had a big smile, a big voice, and a big personality. There’s a big hole where she used to be.

Though Alessandra died young, I think people who live wholeheartedly in the moment get a lot more mileage out of time.

Her aunt, Arleen, read a poem she’d written for her. Sometimes people write tribute poems which are sweet but awful. This was not one of those poems. This poem left me in goosebumps and tears.

Mayor Rob Ford: Way worse than Larry O'Brien

I’ve been riveted by the Rob Ford debacle, but I am conflicted about it. On the one hand, Rob Ford is – and always has been – a repugnant, pugnacious, pig-headed, hypocritical, right-wing bully, so there’s something kind of appealing about watching him self-destruct in such a spectacular way. I just want to grab some popcorn and sit down to watch the news…even the re-runs are good. On the other hand, I sometimes see hints of humility and glimpses of misery and I’m reminded that beneath that ugly veneer there’s a human being in extraordinary pain. He’s losing everything that matters to him, with the possible exception of his dysfunctional family, and I probably shouldn’t be enjoying the spectacle. To quote a 2008 article by John Barber 2008 article, “Watching is ghoulish, not watching impossible.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Rob Ford’s addicted to crack cocaine. He’s way too fat for that. (Nor do I believe his claim that he just did it once.) He does have a monumental drinking problem though. His drinking has led him to risk everything that presumably matters – or should matter – to him: his job, his staff, his reputation, his volunteer coaching gig, his driver’s license, his life, other people’s lives. In the last week alone, Toronto City Council, the Toronto Argonauts, the Santa Claus Parade, Ford Motors and Iceberg Vodka have all taken steps to distance themselves from him. (On the other side of the ledger, Charlie Sheen has come out publicly in support of him.)

If this were happening to a politician I liked – or even one I was indifferent to – I would be sympathetic. Bad enough that his career and personal life are spiralling out of control, but how humiliating for it to happen in full public view. The media attention is intense and relentless. (Of course if he would just stop saying such outrageous things every day, the media might look elsewhere for news, but he can’t seem to help himself.)

I was talking to a friend the other day – someone who has zero interest in politics and who has a long (and ongoing) history of addiction – and he said, “What the hell is wrong with that guy? He should just take a pill and go hide somewhere. He’s gotta be on drugs to keep doing what he’s doing when it’s so obvious to everybody else that it’s over for him.”

I think a big part of the reason Ford won’t step aside or step down is that he lives in a sports metaphor. In his simplistic world view, you never give up, no matter how hopeless it looks, no matter how badly you’re losing. As long as you’re conscious, you stay in the game – you owe it to yourself, your teammates and fans. Rob Ford simply cannot throw in the towel; he lacks the flexibility, self-awareness and good judgement to re-evaluate the situation and concede defeat.

I feel for his wife, Renata. He has kept her out of the public spotlight throughout his entire political career, trotting her out only twice: once on election day, and again on Thursday when he told the media, in these exact words, that he didn’t eat some other woman’s pussy because he had more than enough to eat at home. (Bizarrely, he appeared to think he was taking the moral high ground here.)

Quite apart from being crude and disrespectful to women in general and to his wife in particular, I think we all could’ve done without that picture in our heads. He called a press conference a couple of hours later, and his wife was made to stand by her man, looking awkward, while he apologized for saying it. He didn’t apologize to her – he didn’t even acknowledge her presence – he apologized generically, and angrily.

You have to wonder what was going through her mind at that moment. Was she wondering if everybody was looking at her and thinking about her aforementioned pussy, which figured so prominently in his latest screw-up? Was she thinking about how unbearable it would be if he lost his job and stayed home 24/7? Was she thinking about the time she had him arrested and removed from the house during a domestic assault? Was she thinking about what a pig he is? I’d bet anything she was not thinking that she loves him so much she’d do anything for him, even this.

I wonder how it’s all going to end?