To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Year 3: Part 6: Post 3: Masks

I do not remember what day Eddie made his announcement, but I suspect it was on or around October 11th. I did not know at the time that the 11th is National Coming Out Day, but I'm sure Eddie did.

This morning I woke up outdoors in my spot in the woods in my hammock, glad for the dawn because it meant I could get up and get warm. The night was dry but quite cold. I was up several times in the night, shivering. It's not as cold as it's going to be, of course, but I'm not used to dressing for these temperatures. So far, just moving around in my sleeping bag is enough to warm me up ok. I remember watching the leaves move in the slight breeze and then the moon, waxed almost to half, set and I couldn't see anything anymore. And then I was asleep again.

But this morning when I woke there was ice on my sleeping bag. My breath had condensed on the fabric and frozen there. First frost.

I got up, packed up my stuff, and walked uphill for a bit to get warm. Then I walked back to campus, used the facilities, changed into my uniform, and headed to breakfast. On the way in I saw Charlie through the crowd and waved to him, holding up my notebook. He nodded and when we got inside he came and sat next to me.

"First frost," I told him, by way of hello.

He nodded.

"Not a hard frost, though," he replied.

And then the headwaiter of the day called for a moment of silent prayer. We sat quietly until released by the headwaiter. Then I gave Charlie my naturalist's journal and he looked it over for a moment and stuck it in his bag. The waiters came by with their cauldrons of vegetarian miso soup and oatmeal.  We're out of milk, now, but Patti, who works food service but has the day off, had bought some soy milk and offered it to everyone at our table. Charlie declined and I followed his lead, but everyone else took some. After a few minutes, one of the waiters told us it was our turn to go up to the hot bar and Charlie went but I did not--we each only get eggs every other day and today isn't my day. He and I chatted a bit over breakfast, mostly about the frost and its implications for the campus and the farm. It was his opinion that we'd get some more warm weather before the first of the hard frosts, but that what we'd gotten was cool enough already to sweeten the carrots. A few other people at the table asked him questions about this or that and I got talking to Dillon, who's on the groundskeeping team with me, about a dream he'd had involving telepathic fairies. He was trying to figure out if the dream were a sign or something.

Breakfast is one of the quiet, minor rituals around here. The way everybody shows up, the whole campus, to share the same meal at the same time; the foods, which vary seasonally but otherwise are about the same, always; the reliability of finding somebody to talk to no matter how far-out--or how banal--the subject matter; the way the Dining Hall smells, miso and eggs, baking bread and dish-soap; even the wording of the call for the moment of silence at the beginning and for announcements at the end, they are all alike from day to day. It's a little thing, and I wouldn't want everything to be the same like that, but something about the predictability of breakfast is reassuring.

And then there are things I can't predict.

"Does anybody have any announcements?" said Jos, the headwaiter of the day. Various people raised their hands and he called on them one at a time.

"Climate, Weather, and History is taking a field trip today. Please meet by the vans at 9 o'clock."
"I'm going to the noon meeting at St. Luke's, anybody who wants to come, see me after this."
"I left my cell phone in the pannier of #11 bike on Saturday. It's not there now. Has anybody seen it?"
"I've got it!"
"Thanks, Andy,"
"Any more announcements?"

People who have something more momentous to say usually wait until that second call so that they don't get upstaged afterwards by lost cell phones. Eddie stood up.

"I just wanted to say..." he fidgeted with his hands a bit, then took a breath and adopted a deliberately more confident posture and voice. "I'm a transgendered man. Basically that means when I was born my parents thought I was a chick.I don't really want to talk about it. But half of you already know and you've been keeping it a secret from the other half for my sake and while I really appreciate it, I've decided there's really no point in doing that anymore. I don't think most of you give a shit about I look like with my drawers down anyway. You all know I'm just Ed."

And he sat down again. There was a moment of silence and we all clapped. I'm not sure why--it probably embarrassed him--but the announcement seemed to call for some sort of response or acknowledgement.

"Good for him," Charlie said. "We're only as sick as our secrets." That comment could be read as some kind of denigration of transness, but I don't think he meant it that way. He's worked with Security Joe for something like twenty years, after all. I think he just meant that it's good to be open about things. It's an AA saying.

"How come you don't make an announcement?" I asked, meaning why didn't he come out as an AA member? I knew he wouldn't. I was teasing him.

"Because I'm still pretty sick," he replied with a straight face, then looked at me with a quick smile. Everyone got up to go and the room became very noisy. Charlie and I stood as well, and under the cover of that noise he leaned towards me and murmured "I don't want anyone to associate AA with me. I don't want some drunk student to delay getting help because they don't like Charlie." And he walked away, as he usually does right after he reveals something about himself.

That morning I went on the climate change field trip as a guest (I did my groundskeeping shift in the afternoon). When I got back I got my lunch and went to eat it out in the gazebo. The day was gorgeous, after all. I found Steve Bees, Eddie, Andy, and Kit already there and I joined them.

"I don't understand this Samhain thing," Steve was saying. "No offense, I want to understand, but it's like you're worshiping death or something. I guess I don't see where death deserves that."

"Why birth and not death?" Eddie asked. "Every transition is the end of one thing and the beginning of another."

Steve looked at him oddly for a moment but quite clearly couldn't figure out what to say. I wondered, too, but I think Eddie probably wasn't talking about gender--he often isn't, and I know that part of his reluctance was his worry that people would do exactly what Steve had just done--interpret everything he said or did in light of that one issue. He didn't want to be some exotic personage, he wanted to be "just Ed." He made a face and Steve looked away.

"Take what you like and leave the rest," suggested Andy, mildly. It's another 12-step phrase, and it's also basically how Andy approaches the pagan-ness of this community, some of which makes him uncomfortable.

"Don't think of it as worshiping death," suggested Kit. "Think of it as a day of remembrance. You'll see. It's not macabre in the common sense at all. That's Halloween."

"Now, see, I liked Halloween as a kid," Steve said. "It was fun. Trick-or-treating has roots in Samhain, too, doesn't it?"

"Yup," said Kit. "Kids dressing up as land spirits and begging money or treats goes way back in European paganism."

"I don't see the connection," said Steve. "What does dressing up in masks have to do with remembering the dead?"

"Any time you have a big transition, all other identities become mutable, too," said Kit. "Life and death, summer and winter, male and female, privileged and otherwise, it's all up for grabs. It's a good time to play with identity."

"I think Samhain is a good time to teach children how to wear masks," said Eddie. "Because it's all masks, all those roles, all those identities. But if you know it's a mask, then you know you can choose to take it off or leave it on. It's yours, and you can do what you want with it.

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