Thursday, September 18, 2014

85 and counting

I wrote this on 9/10

The main reason for the trip to Rochester, or at least the excuse for it, was my mom's birthday.  She turned 85 years old on August 29.

Mom and me

My mom's birthday has special significance in my world.  Part of it is that it provides the only real opportunity for our family to get together each year.  With mom living in Dallas, my brother and sister in Rochester, and me - well - wherever I happen to be, it's not something that happens by itself.  And with my mom getting older these kinds of trips get harder on her.  This was the first year she arranged for a wheel chair to meet her on the plane and take her to her connecting flight.

My mom is a rock.  She's healthy, she enjoys life, she's happy - and at the same time she seems to have come to peace with the stage of life she's in.  Her friends are passing away one by one and I suppose that once you get within striking distance of 100 that's to be expected.  But she doesn't dwell on it, and she's always planning for the future.  That's how I know she's ok.

The main way I can sense that she's aging is in her voice.  She moves slower, too, but I suspect that's to be expected.  She bought something called a HurryCane that she absolutely loves - she'll talk about it for 20 minutes if you let her.  But the one constant is that her purse still weighs a dozen pounds or more.  It's more like a small suitcase full of various aspects of her life - books, keys, who knows what else - than a purse.

My mom, the birthday girl....and her monster-purse
Another constant is that she LOVES to sew.  She brought a bunch of stuff to keep her busy over her two weeks in Rochester.  And, she loves to read.

Her birthday that was perhaps most memorable for me was her 70th, in 1999.  I had come out to her in early July at breakfast in Rochester and it would be the first time I would meet the entire family after beginning my transition.  My FFS with Dr. O was scheduled for late July so I would be 5 weeks or so post-op - but not even full-time yet.  I was slowly but surely gaining confidence living as Donna outside of work until early October when the life I had known would be gone, and the life I was about to embark on would become real.

My mom made it clear that she didn't want my transition to be the main focus of the visit and I was fine with that.  I came out to my brother in mid-August, and the first time he saw me was when he picked my up so we could go to mom's birthday dinner together.  Mom picked out a dress she wanted me to wear, and I looked nice in it.  There was no tension, no apprehension, no jitters - at least on my side (and I didn't sense any in the rest of the family).  My brother acknowledged that it was a little awkward at first, but that we'd get past it.  And we have.

Anyway - I digress.  There were 20 people at mom's birthday dinner.  It was great having everyone together.

My mom's birthday dinner gang.
And, on Saturday the event at the Rochester Sailing Club was equally wonderful.  The weather was great, there were upwards of 50 people there, and it provided an opportunity for old friends and relatives who hadn't seen one another in a long time to catch up.

The most important thing is that my mom had a good time.

My brother, my mom, and your's truly - after a long day at the Sailing club....

This was a day to remember....I doubt we'll be able to replicate it.  If lives are made of notable days...well...this was one.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Friends with the Past

I haven't posted anything for a while.  My bad.  Life has been very busy lately - in a good way.

I decided that the way I want to catch up is to write a number of posts - each on a topic or a specific aspect of events over the past couple of weeks.  That, to me, is a more effective way of saying what I want to say than to put it all in one long, rambling post.

I'll start with this one.  I wrote it on Thursday August 28 but never published it.

Thursday, August 28 

First things first - I had another very pleasant weekend.  I did some work outside work that needed to be done (it was the perfect weekend for it).  And, of course, there was the weekly motorcycle trip.  We did a 100 mile circle up one of the most scenic roads in the area (and that's saying something).  USA Today recently identified Ashley River Rd. as one of the most Scenic Roads in the South (link here).

I thought about stopping for photos a half dozen times, but I think we'll head back there in the fall to do that.  The weather was perfect for an afternoon ride, and best of all we had the roads to ourselves for a good bit of it.

We bought these Blue Tooth communication devices and tested them out yesterday - it was way cool.  Big thumbs up from both of us.

Now - current events....

I flew to Rochester NY a couple of evenings ago.  The main reason for the trip is to celebrate my mom's 85th birthday.  But my sister has done an amazing job of pulling people who are either part of the family or have intersected with the family from all over the country for a day-long event on Saturday.

One of our ex-neighbors from Buffalo NY in the early '70s is flying in from Florida.  A cousin I haven't seen since 1971 is taking the train in from Virginia.  Cousins from LA are coming.  Other cousins from NYC are coming.  A family friend from Dallas is flying in.  I'm actually looking forward to re-connecting with this group after so many years.

And, of course, as with every time I come back to Rochester I find myself wallowing in nostalgia.  This area is "home" for me more than any other.  We bought our first house here, my son was born here, my father died here, my brother and sister live here, I have lots of friends and memories....none of that has changed.  If anything, time amplifies it.

Just an example...when my book came out in 2003 I was asked to speak at the Barnes and Noble here in Pittsford.  The person who arranged everything is Penny.  I participated in a couple of other events in the years afterwards and Penny was there, too.  I stop in to see if she's still at B&N.  It seems as though she's ALWAYS there.  Well, I stopped by yesterday.  And, as usual - she was there.  So nice to see her.

I explained some of what I've done over the past couple of years.  The wrestling, working in a cold underground bunker at US Strategic Command, the motorcycle, some of the traveling.  She told me to write another book.  I told her I'm too busy doing this stuff to write about it.  :)

I stopped by the old neighborhood - as I always do.  I spent time catching up with my mom, my sister, and my nieces.  I had dinner with the daughter of our neighbors for all 15 years we lived there -she's married now and has a young son.

Dinner with JoElyn and her family.
She used to babysit for us when my son was the age that hers is now.
I stopped to look at the apartments my wife and I moved into in mid-1982 when we first moved to Rochester, before we bought our house.  I had lunch at my favorite BBQ with a good friend from the area I've known since the local paper did a story on me a dozen years ago.  I visited the Harley dealership - a friend bought me a small bell to put on my bike for good luck.  I drove around - noticing things that had changed and things that hadn't.

We drove up to Honeyoye Falls to enjoy the late summer/early fall sights that make the area so wonderful this time of year.

Honeyoye Falls
The Sunflower field on Rt. 64 is nearing full bloom

I stopped to visit the woman who helped keep me sane through the early '80s thru the mid '90s (her name is Deborah).  At the time she had a make-up has grown into a thriving Brow business (thus the name - Brow Biz).  Although we only see each other once ever couple or three years it's always nice to catch up where we left off - very comfortable and easy with her.  All in all - it's just nice to be home.

Visiting  the always wonderful Deborah at Brow Biz.
Over the course of a decade She helped my "other" self  more than I can express.

One thing that has stuck me over these past few days is how simple my life here was.  My life "before", that is.  I wasn't pulled in a hundred different directions.  Priorities seemed very simple - family first, everything else second.  I wasn't wondering where I'd be living in 6 months or a year, I wasn't involved in extra-curricular activities (other than our wedding video business), it was all very comfortable.  One of the things people sometimes ask is whether or not I would have transitioned if I hadn't moved away from the area and I really don't know - I can't hazard a guess.  The issues bubbled to the surface every few months but otherwise I had come to accept them as simply part of the tide of life - in sometimes, then out.

Regardless - life seems far more complicated these days.  I feel like I'm juggling far more than I was when I lived there - I'm not sure if it's true or not (memory can be pretty selective sometimes) but at least that's what I feel when I go back.  That's not a bad thing - but it's a noticeable thing.

I feel a very real need to visit my past sometimes.  I realize some people want to escape their pasts, or erase their pasts, but that's not me.  My past is part of who I am, and I've made friends with it, I enjoy staying in touch with it whether it's people, places, events, or memories.  All good.

I also find that when I come home to Rochester I tend to turn more introspective than usual.  I think it's due to a combination of things, but part of it is simply the comfort of the familiar, the deep connection I still have with the area, and the joy I feel being around my family.  My brother and sister (and their families) still live here, my father died here, and when my mom visits for her birthday each August it's our only opportunity to all be together.  I appreciate it while I can.

With my little niece, Kyrie.  She's the happiest person I know.
The festivities kick off tomorrow - it's my mom's actual birthday.  A group of 20 of us will be going out for dinner (she enjoys going to a Japanese place where they cook at the table), then there will be an all day party at a local sailing club on Saturday.  I hope the weather cooperates.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dance With the Road

It was another wonderful weekend.

The weather was amazing, wonderful, a word, perfect.  It was sunny, highs were slightly north of 90 degrees, and you couldn't ask for a better late summer day.  The kids in South Carolina start school again today so it was a last gasp of summer for many of them.

We spent part of Saturday on the water, pulling the kids on a big inner tube.  They talked me into trying it, as well, and I'm relieved to say that I held on for dear life.  I'm still held together pretty well and far from fragile but this can be a pretty bumpy ride.

And, yesterday was all about the bike.  We decided to go for a road trip down the coast to Beaufort but at the last minute ended up diverting to Edisto Island.  Neither of us had ever been there and we thought it would be a prettier ride.  It was wonderful.

Yesterday's motorcycle adventure to Edisto Island - 160 miles RT

One of the cool things about South Carolina is that everywhere you go is (a) filled with history and (b) very photogenic.  It's easy to stop just about anywhere and there'd be pictures to take (example here).

Anyway - It was a beautiful ride on a beautiful day.

Every time I ride it just gets better and better.  As we were navigating Hwy 174 yesterday it became apparent to me that riding a motorcycle is like dancing.  When I'm traveling on a highway in the car I'm typically 5 mph or more above the speed limit at any given time.  It's all about getting there.

But on the bike, I'm typically 5 mph below the speed limit.  When the road curves you lean into it.  When it's time to slow down you downshift, or pull the clutch to slow the bike.  It's a very active interaction between rider, bike, road, other traffic, and environment that I find intoxicating.  Plus, there's a unique sense of "community" among bikers, whether it's a simple two-finger acknowledgment as you pass one another on the road or chatting at a stop somewhere.  The simple fact that you're both on a motorcycle is enough to forge a bond.

Lunch on the Edisto Island

Maybe it's because it's still all so new, but I really wish I had found this 15 or 20 years ago.  Regardless, I've found it now.  As with many aspects of my life - better late than never.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


I haven't had any "official" responsibilities outside of work in a while.  It has been nice to have most of my free time to myself.  There was a time when I had very little of it - between HRC, GLAAD, other organizations, other was like having several full-time jobs.  I'm still enjoying having my free-time to myself.

I went to Cleveland over the weekend - up on Saturday and back on Sunday.  It's a 530  mile drive from Charlotte - across Virginia, West Virginia, and into Ohio.  Honestly, those kinds of drives are almost "casual" - anything I can do in 8 hours or less really isn't much of a trip.  The drive was uneventful, the scenery was nice, I'm in good spirits - all things considered it was very pleasant.

The reason I went was to accept an Award for being inducted into the Gay Games Hall of Merit at a pre-opening-ceremony reception.  Everything went smoothly, and I had a good time.  It was nice to see some of the wrestlers from San Francisco who I first met when I attended a Memorial Day Camp/Tournament there in 2006.

Golden Gate Wrestling Club - May 2006
Both of the guys next to me in this photo were in Cleveland.  So was the only other girl in the photo.  I didn't stay to compete (for a number of reasons), but it was nice to reconnect with everyone.

I made a bunch of travel arrangements last week.  I'll be flying home to Rochester for Mom's Birthday Aug 26-31, I'll be in Atlanta at SCC the following weekend, I'll be in Washington DC for an event at the end of the month, and I'm flying to Denver to see my son and attend a Buffalo Bills game there in early December.  I also expect to be doing a trip to Epcot next month, and would love to get to Annapolis for the Boat Show in October.  We'll see how it goes.

The news on everyone's mind at the moment is the tragic suicide of Robin Williams.  Topics for discussion on FB these days seem confined to suicide or death, and although sadness seems to be a consistent theme thoughts on those two subjects - death and suicide - seem mixed.

I think about death more these days.  As I get older and see more and more people who die at an age at or near mine it becomes more of a reality.  I've said before and I very much believe that a significant portion of life involves preparing for death.  Whether it be accepting tenets of one's faith as they relate to death and beyond, recognition that life is finite so making the most of our time here, or any number of other very profound realities - it's something we'll all face sooner or later.

My mom's 85th birthday looms on the horizon - at the end of the month, to be specific.  We'll all be gathering in Rochester, NY.  This year will involve a bigger than usual celebration.  We've got relatives, friends and neighbors that we haven't seen for 30 or more years coming.  My sister has arranged a get-together at the local sailing club on Saturday.  I'm actually very much looking forward to it.  But there's very much a recognition that we need to enjoy these times while we can.

As life goes on I feel more and more pressure to do some of the things at the top of my bucket list.  The item at the top of that list is to visit Europe.  I've never been there.

Anyway - I don't mean to make this morose so I'll change topics....

As anyone who has been here for very long knows I mark significant annual dates as landmarks.  Perhaps no date is more significant than the day I had SRS - August 10, 2000.  That anniversary recently passed with little or no fanfare.  It's very much a non-thing these days.

Ironically, when I think of that week I think of three things.  I think of the unpleasant "prep" the night before.  I think of my mom and sister being there.  And, I think of what it was like to finally get out of bed to take a shower after the bandages had been removed.  It was gone.  Finally.  Although many years have passed the amazement I felt at that moment has never faded.  It still amazes me.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Time Capsule

The final phase in the effort to move the rest of my "stuff" across country from Arizona to here is underway.  I'm unpacking boxes and putting stuff away.

I'm actually of two minds about this.  One of my minds realizes that I'm halfway through my lease so the possibility that I'll just have to pack it all back up again in a few months is very real.  The other mind wants to make my apartment as homey as I can, and is actually enjoying re-discovering everything I've been living without these past few years.

Case in point - today I'm wearing a top that was recently unpacked.  It's pretty, and thankfully it still fits. It's like having new clothes!  In fact - one of my co-workers already asked if it was new.

I don't like to think of myself as a hoarder, but at the same time I collect things I realize I'll probably never look at again.  Ever.  For example, I've got newspapers from during all the Buffalo Bills Super Bowl games, covering all the hype leading up to the game as well as the game itself.  They're in 2 mildly heavy boxes.  Why keep them?  I dunno - I just want to.

I know some who would rather forget their past.  I am not one of those.  My past is part of who I am.  Parts of my past brought me a significant amount of happiness.  They were part of who I was, and I suppose in some way I don't want to loose that.  I suppose it took me a long time to realize that I don't have to give it up.  Anyway - that's not an excuse for hoarding.  It's just something about me.

This was a bit of an odd weekend.  A typical weekend these days involves driving to Charleston on Friday after work, then back to Charlotte at dinnertime on Sunday or very early Monday.  Due to some schedule things and some pretty crummy weather in Charleston yesterday I was back in Charlotte by noon.  That gave a half a day here that I don't usually get.  It felt "odd", and I think it's going to throw my whole week off kilter.

I certainly had no problem filling the time.  I did some stuff with the dogs, I spent a little time doing some things outside, I washed all my bed linens, and of course there's the unpacking thing.  My apartment looks significantly smaller now with all this new old "stuff" in it.

I suppose I've got a pretty good life right now.  My career is going well - I'm being well paid and I seem to be fitting in well here.  I'm surrounded by my creature comforts.  Although I'm not in Charleston full-time I'm close by and get home on a regular basis.  My health seems to be good.  My head and my heart are happy.  I suppose I should enjoy this quiet time while I can.  But, to be honest, I'm restless.

I'm not sure why.  I just am.  I suspect I'll have more to say about that once I figure it out.

Monday, July 28, 2014


I cancelled my car insurance policy today.  I have switched companies.

Under most circumstances I wouldn't mention this.  The thing that makes this special is that I've been with this company since 1980....almost 35 years.  That's a long time by any measure.

It's not that they necessarily did anything wrong.  I've got a few nits to pick with them but in the scheme of thing I haven't felt the need to go shopping for another company.  In all honesty, my insurance company has been the most consistent element of my entire adult life (odd to say that, but it's true).  Ya know what changed things?  The motorcycle.....

This company doesn't offer motorcycle insurance.  They use a 3rd party to quote rates but the rates are high compared to others.  And, it only makes sense to bundle to get the best rates.  So, because of the motorcycle I got coverage thru another company and switched the rest of my policies over as well.

When I called today to cancel the policy I spoke to someone who was 1 year old in 1980.  She apologized that the company couldn't serve my needs and invited me back if I find I'm not satisfied elsewhere.  But what's done is done.  And this is done.

I also went to the doctor today.  Under normal circumstances that's not big news, either.  The thing that made today's appointment unique was that I had decided that I needed a local doctor in Charlotte since that's where I spend most of my time so I needed to go thru the whole new-patient intake thing.  Ugh.

I did some research before picking this guy.  I've been turned down by doctors before....flat out refused because they're not comfortable working with people with my "diagnosis".  The key is finding someone who is going to be ok and who might even have experience working with our unique physiologies (for example, he was astute to ask if I still have a prostate or not).  Anyway, he wasn't phased, everything went smoothly, and I'm glad I've got someone locally just in case I get sick.

The highlight of the weekend was a loooonnnnnggg bike ride yesterday.  It was 98 degrees out but on the bike it felt comfortable.  We did a huge circle thru the National Forest and around near downtown.  Every time we go out I get more and more comfortable, and it just makes me want to go out and do it more.

The big circle route....

We stopped for something to eat and drink, but all told we were gone for over 4 hours.  Did I mention how much fun it was?  I had a blast.

One of the beautiful things right now is that everything is so green.  Here's a picture from near the house...

I doubt that this post will do the photo justice, but the version on my phone is bursting with various shades of green.  That's what caught my eye.  I was thinking of my friends suffering through the dry, brown, dog-days of summer in Phoenix.

Change....get comfortable with it.  It will not be denied.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Quiet is good

When I set my mind on something....when it "matters"....I rarely let it go.  It's part of my personality that I've developed a love/hate relationship with.  I think part of what makes me effective is that once I've set a goal I'm tenacious, creative, and unyielding to get there.  Transition, wrestling, my career...I can think of a whole laundry list of examples.

In the early days of my transition I tried to explain to my wife that I wasn't sure what the outcome of my transition adventure would be.  After all, that's the purpose of the RLT and all the other "stuff" meant to separate the fantasy from the often difficult, sometimes grim, reality.  But my wife knew how I am, and she was right when she said that once I set my mind on something I don't stop until it happens.

The only reason I mention that today is that I passed my North Carolina Real Estate Licensing exam this week.  I failed it last time (its a very hard test), which was a major downer for me. The reality is that it's not something I "need", per se.  However, I set my sights on it and I was going to make it happen.

As I've already said - It was a very difficult test.  The passing rate of people taking it for the first time is a mere 31%, meaning that nearly 70% fail.  Well - I was one of those 70%.  But I've studied, and I've talked with seasoned realtors about some of the things that I find confusing, and ultimately I've found that knowing South Carolina licensing law and practices was actually a detriment here.  There are some significant differences.

Anyway - without going into too much detail the end result is that I passed.  And I'm happy and relieved about that because I would have taken this thing over and over again until I passed it. At $100 a pop it would have gotten expensive.

I've got my mind wrapped around something else at the moment...something I'm not ready to mention yet.  But, if things follow form, I know where it's going.

Here's a hint....

Yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with my dermatologist.  I had a minor "issue" to show him when I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he things I might have a stitch buried from a previous excision.  Anyway, he went in to cut the area out yesterday.  I didn't feel anything after the shots other than a little tugging here and snipping there.  Still, it's surprising how much those kinds of things take out of you.  I was out of sorts for the better part of the afternoon.  Now that the shots have worn off I'm a little uncomfortable, but nothing horrible.

I've got some traveling coming up.  I'll be headed to central Ohio in August to attend the Gay Games in Cleveland.  I'm also scheduled to attend a women's motorcycle group event in Toledo - unfortunately the two overlap.  I'll be in Rochester, NY for a week at the end of the month for my mom's 85th birthday.  At the moment, tho, things are blissfully quiet.  I'm good with that.  Quiet is good.