Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On the Road With Rimbaud

When I was fifteen I ran away to find Patti Smith. It was another drunken morning – my two best boys had convinced me to slough off my job at the florist, work my canny parents got me in hopes of preempting any teen mischief my first summer not in camp. I don’t think I even called in. My boss was a revoltingly bald hairy guy who sang in a band at the Red Barn and played accordion and stuck his nasty, pointed tongue in my mouth at every opportunity. I was delighted to be trashed by 10am. It meant I was free.

We packed up a gallon of bourbon and a ham, got into Bill’s corvette and drove out of the tepid yellow Virginia sun, to stinky, muggy New York City. We slept in the front yard of Saint Mark’s Church. It was 1976. I threw up in CBGB’s that very first night. All that ham and bourbon you know.

We never did meet Patti Smith, although we did meet her drummer, JD Dougherty. I had forced my friend to let me wear his homemade “Iggy and the Stooges” t shirt, and I remember being really glad I had, pointing at it even, for JD’s approbation. We saw Lydia Lunch and James Chance playing their very first gig, and all of Saint Mark’s except Patti came to see them: members of her band, and Blondie, and the Talking Heads, the Cramps, and more. We were in Joey Ramone’s loft at one point. I was drunk, or hungover enough to be in another kind of altered state; I knew what kind of drama was waiting for me when I got home. The return was indeed bad, but in an emotional way. I cemented my complete alienation from my family then; they could not understand their miserable daughter and her need to run, run and stay fucked up. But that’s neither here nor there.

I still love Patti Smith. I recall, some years back, thinking, “someday this music won’t reach me anymore; it will seem juvenile and irrelevant.” But that never happened.

I spent a couple nights at the Zen Center at a meditation seminar this week. The sensei talked about grasping, clinging, how the little mind wants to hold on to things that it believes make it feel good, but how the truth is that nothing stays the same, there’s nothing to cling to. There is not even some essential nugget of oneself that persists. Everything is changing, all the time. Is there not an essential nugget of Sam-ness that endures? Who still loves Patti?

I’m a Clinger: I get that.* Clinging to my identity as a woman has created great suffering for me this past year, in the form of unseemly panic. But frankly, there’s nothing I could have done differently. Anyway, this is how pearls get made, I tell you, by holding on to, succoring, then coating our irritants, our discomforts, our obsessions, with our handmade mucous love. I may have clung to the crap in my oyster mouth, but the pearl I will give freely.

I tell you this: there is an organic process, and you cannot hasten it. There is grief to be felt, and change to fear. Surrender. But god damn it do not be attached to it. It’s a lost love. That ship sailed, Boyo, and yet I’m knee deep in surf, looking for the dock. I have respect for the ocean, though, don’t you? Ever been boogie-boarding, or wave-jumping, and you’re thinking “I’ve got a rhythm with this now; it’s happening for me” when WHAM, you’re somersaulting through salt water and sand paper, your nipples torn by the ocean floor, your lungs and face burning? My woman ship has sailed and I have nothing but honor, respect, awe and not a little fear of the ocean it’s on.

There’s something mythic about transitioning. Something classical. All of the sudden I’m Jason, only my Golden Fleece is a merkin, and I have to battle my way through seven kinds of transguy performance-rappers to get to some oracle with a chest wig. Doesn’t it seem that there’s a higher percentage of transguy performers than other demos? Are we all shameless self-promoters, or is it just me? Well, strictly speaking, I’m not without shame, so there you go.

Shame was the final challenge to Siddhartha’s ego, evidently. It was suggested, coyly, to him, that perhaps he was not worthy of enlightenment. What made him think he deserved Awakening!? Buddha didn’t bite; that’s why he’s all Buddha, all the time, but me? I’ll doggedly chew some shame.

What makes me think I’m worthy, deserving of happiness? Fuck awakening; let’s just talk about simple satiety. I have profound experiences of fullness, of connectedness. It’s up to me to use my transgendery magic for good and not evil, by which I mean, I can use it to isolate and embitter myself, or I can get on the dance floor with the other guys, and shake what God gave me, which is, frankly flawed, but not without certain charms. I’m not a Buddhist; I have too many madcap and zany mystical and direct experiences to deny a greater consciousness – but I love the Bodhisattva vow, which was explained to me as dedication to the ultimate welfare (awakening) of others (before oneself).

So I make this vow to you: I will dedicate myself to be ever-changing and expanding, with intentional joy and love, in the belief that this action will infect both you and me like a beautiful virus. I don’t think this will make you reconsider your birth gender, and it may not change our taste in music. Hopefully, it will make you rethink your shoe choices, which I’ve been meaning to talk to you about. Anyway, I’m not worthy, or I am, or it doesn’t matter anyway. I am becoming a man, who was once a woman, who was never a little girl, who might become something else entirely. Dinner is served.

*which sounds like something dingelberry-ish and dire in your short hairs...metaphorically, I suppose it is.


  1. i love this post. i came out in NYC in 1974 and spent most of my time chasing patti smith around. i was from rockaway beach and we had a great club there, same name. i managed to see her read her poetry at marymount and later to interview her for my college paper. she was so important to me.. and still is.


  2. Yeah, I saw her five times, the first in a tiny club in D.C. John Cage came out at the end and played bass on "My Generation." Her performance reminded me of a Voodoo ceremony I saw in Haiti...she went in a trance state and crazy poet shit started happening; it was dark and chthonic. She was my Beatrice, took me to dark places of my own sexuality/gender and shone light.

  3. oof, I mean "John Cale." "Say, Fear is a man's best friend."

  4. I related to basically all of this. I am a clinger too, I guess we all are. It can be painful to roll around in the present, but hilarious fun too.


  5. OMG, I loved this post! You are a great storyteller and writer.