For the handful of people in my life who do not know, I recently had facial feminization surgery (FFS) and breast augmentation (BA) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, provided by the expert hands of Dr. Lázaro Cárdenas Camarena. This adventure was the culmination of years of careful saving and exhaustive research and represents the last significant transition-related body modification I anticipate ever pursuing. As I heal from this sizable achievement, I also reflect on it.
I’ve updated this vision a few times. Here’s version three.
Ottawa has a reputation for being boring, unimaginative, and cautious. It is one of many planned capitals in the world, splitting the difference between more prominent economic centers (Montreal and Toronto) on either side of it, and this sense of being both deliberate and an afterthought suffuses the very air of this place. One does not get the sense that the people of Ottawa love or hate this place the way the people of Montreal and Toronto can love or hate their home. Rather, the pervasive sentiment of Ottawa is that we ended up here and, well, it’s nice enough, I suppose. This lackadaisical sort of affection synergizes unhelpfully with Ottawa’s status as an instinctively cautious but rapidly growing government town, preventing the kind of vision that gave Montreal, Toronto, and various world capitals such as Washington and Moscow their impressive passenger rail networks.
But what if Ottawa had such a vision?
I got out.
I don’t know how long I can stay. Canada has refused to employ me despite (because of?) my advanced degree, and if anything goes awry in my immigration process, they might yet force me back.
But I got out.
Images of people in my culture don’t look like me.
There’s a trivial sense in which that’s not true. My dark, angled eyes, curly hair, curvaceous figure, and diminutive stature all betray my origins. Our beauty queens and pop stars in particular look like me, conspicuously lighter in hue than even our own relatives. As distinctive as I always am in family photos, someone else who looked like me would not have seemed out of place.
But the image of us isn’t a scientist. She isn’t an atheist or a socialist. She isn’t dating outside her race. She isn’t deliberately far away from her parents. She isn’t autistic. She isn’t transgender. She isn’t gay.
He hoarded his Christmas gifts. We would get him cologne, ties, shirts, tchotchkes from our travels, treatments to soften his overworked hands, and they would all find their ways into drawers and cabinets, untouched for years. His clothing had to wear to nothing before he would discard it and start the next one’s slow disintegration. New, untouched things are a treasure to save for when they are needed, not an indulgence for in between. Scarcity is behind every shadow and over every hill, and a good hoard is insurance against doing without. It’s a habit my father, my grandfather, and I all share, to each other’s bemused frustration. They tangled with Communists, I grew up autistic, and we all hoard.
“Well, I give up. What’s the catch?”
“Oh, no catch. Although we are technically in New Jersey.”
The way American television talks about New Jersey, one would think the apocalypse already happened, but only there. The air is semisolid industrial waste and the beaches are made of finely ground syringes. The people are ruder than the rudest New York stereotype, bizarrely puffed-up Italian-American caricatures, elitist Princeton heirs, and immigrants from all over Asia and Latin America, somehow all at once, with only racism letting anyone have something other than the most impossibly overwrought “New Jersey accent.” It’s treated as New York’s leavings and the USA’s armpit, in media as obnoxiously cliché as How I Met Your Mother and as original and usually-compassionate as Steven Universe.
None of that is the New Jersey I remember from the eleven years I lived there.
It is not possible to run out of reasons to love Steven Universe. This show’s explicitly queer representation is staggeringly high for a show as mainstream as it is; its psychological depth is impressive; it tells us forthrightly and aggressively that our genders should not constrain our possibilities; most of the characters are women or people of color (and largely voiced by people of color); there is a plot arc that is unambiguously about consent and another about being willing to seek comfort from one’s friends in crisis; onward and onward.
It’s also an impressively diverse treatment of immigrants’ and refugees’ feelings about the place they used to call home.
Spoilers out to episode 83 follow.
I learned something this week.
I learned that I can beg and plead, at the brink of tears, more emotional than you have heard or seen me in more than ten years, for over an hour, and you’ll be unmoved.
I learned that I can pour my soul out for you on the page, in the form of communication in which I’m most comfortable, and you won’t bother reading it for comprehension.
I learned that you’ll always default to trying to be my emotional inverse, calm and collected when I am urgently emotional, shrieking and yelling when I’m quiet, because you never had any higher end than trying to make me doubt my own feelings and replace them with yours.
I learned that I can make a tiny request, that means more to me than anything, and the measure of your response will be how inconvenient it is for you.
Things are about to get very difficult for us.
I’m near the end of my Ph.D. studies. What should be a time of, if not hope, at least anticipation is a period of constant dread, because of two things I’ve learned.
My supervisor is, in all likelihood, signing the form he has to deliver to the Department of Biology indicating what his financial contribution to me next semester is going to be, and everything he’s said to me since the beginning of last semester says that that amount is about to drop from about $6300 to $0. He has “incentivized” me to get my degree this semester by hanging the specter of his half of my salary no longer showing up in my bank accounts if I take any longer than that, because the stress of homelessness and lapsed prescriptions somehow does not get between scientists and their work. I won’t know until he tells me, or I ask the department what he sent them.
But that’s small potatoes compared to the latest development.