End

She came out in the summer of 2020, when it was no longer bearable to remain submerged in fake masculinity. She had grown unimaginably tired of the ever-increasing levels of effort it took to maintain that façade. To look at herself in the bathroom mirror in the morning and try not to cry at the sight of stubble and receding hairline, broad shoulders and square jaw.

So, bit by bit, she told her wife, her friends, her family and her colleagues. And then she changed her name.

The next summer, she and her wife got Blizzards at the Dairy Queen on Araphoe Road, on a warm summer night. They feasted in the red smoky haze of the forest-fire twilight overlooking the city center from fifteen miles south. And then she saw it: A pulse of blinding light high above the core of the urban front-range, and she told her wife of the vision. She tried to put it out of her head.

She thought the whole process of transition would probably take about two years, and she was right.

Alone, in the winter night, in her hospital bed just south of downtown Denver, no wife and no friends by her side, IVs slowly dripping Vancomycin and narcotics into the vein in her right arm, she watched the news of the invasion on her iPad.

This evil old boomer is there on live TV, bashing her. Literally blaming what she is for his monstrous acts of war:

“Do we really want … it drilled into children in our schools … that there are supposedly genders besides women and men, and [children to be] offered the chance to undergo sex change operations? … We have a different future, our own future.”

She cannot believe what she’s hearing. She kept it inside for so long, and she only just became brave enough to show up as herself. It seemed like maybe the world was becoming more accepting. And then this.

She tried to kill herself in March, but didn’t want to make her family sad. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Months passed, more surgeries, more friends lost. The pandemic started to ease. She went to Europe for work. People smiled at her out in the world. She was only pointed at and called a “boy” by a few people that summer. She drove through Texas to prove to herself that the world wasn’t as scary as she had feared. It mostly went OK.

In August, she survived an attack and carjacking by a man wielding a knife. Physically unharmed, mentally obliterated.

Work was OK, almost all she had left, sometimes.

She went to a concert with her ex-wife, it was fun. Afterwards, she cried for two days about what she had lost. She asked to be put on antidepressants. And then more antidepressants.

At Christmas, she kissed a girl for the first time as herself. Held hands. Both hands. Stared into the eyes of this person and saw a soul staring back at her that she hoped would melt into her own. The two of them becoming one, slowly, over time. Learning from each other, sharing with each other. Adventuring together through the rest of their lives.

They were happy, these two women who had to fight for everything they had, had to fight to be themselves.

It was a sunny, July day in 2024, and they were out on the trail, they loved to run together. They were both pretty slow, but they didn’t care. As they crested the ridge overlooking downtown Denver, they both stopped to catch their breath, and to peer through the leaves. And then a bright light

And then they were gone.

Another Dream

A few nights ago, I had the first dream that I could remember the details of, in over two years. It was an old 8-millimeter film home movie, silent. The kind that parents used to make of their kids, before video cameras were a thing. The kind of film my dad used to use to capture West African mask performances for his research, and used to film me and my sister when we were young children.

In the home movie, I am wearing a pink-purple-and-white-striped dress. I’m probably about four years old, so this would have been in 1982. I’m playing with my sister. This never happened in “real life”, but I think somehow it happened in a parallel universe.

I had this overwhelming feeling of joy during the dream. A family friend had somehow discovered this old film of me, and showed it to me. They were overjoyed to have found this proof of me as a little girl. I was so happy they had found it.

For a while, I thought the friend who found it was the person who had filmed it. Today, my sister pointed out that the person who would have been filming would have been my dad. The dream was about my dad seeing me as I am. As I was. As a little girl, his older daughter. In some universe, this is true. Maybe he did see me as I am. Maybe, it is our universe after all.

Requiem For My Former Self

I need to honor Nicholas Spencer Roy. Although I’ve said I don’t like or believe in the othering of the self that happens a lot with trans people when they talk about their lives before transition, I think there is a degree of truth to this. I still feel like me, and you can still see a lot of what I used to look like in my face and body, but it’s rapidly fading. I definitely look like a woman version of myself now. After FFS, that will only become more pronounced. So, I want to say that the man named Nicholas Roy, Nick, was a good, kind, strong, compassionate person. He loved deeply, cared greatly for those he loved. His strength to endure through a world that didn’t know he carried me inside was impressive. Although I caused him pain, I think I also brought him kindness, sweetness, glimmers of beauty. Nick and I needed each other. He’s still here, but now he gets to rest. I love him, I will always love him.

(Originally posted on social media May 16, 2021)

Is There Anybody Out There?

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I can tell you what it’s like for me.

In 1991, when I was thirteen years old, I had my first severe dissociative episode. I was looking in the bathroom mirror in my parents’ house, and I realized that I did not recognize the person in the mirror as me. I had seen this reflection my entire life, but this time was different. Imagine looking in the mirror and quite literally seeing someone who is not you, looking back at you. That is the plot of a horror movie. I got closer and closer to the mirror, staring deeply into my own eyes, letting my facial features blur. The only thing I could recognize in the image, were my eyes. I started to feel dizzy. I started to get very “meta” in my thoughts. I thought, “If that’s not me, who am I? Maybe I’m not really here. I don’t really exist.”

This was the first time I remember having facial dysphoria. The result of this episode was that I felt like I was “outside my body” for the entire rest of the day. It was extremely disturbing. After that, puberty started to kick in to high gear. I became increasingly depressed. I tried to avoid shaving for a long time, because I heard that if you shaved, you’d make the hair grow in faster. Then one day, a classmate of mine told me that I “missed a spot” and pointed at a patch on my cheek. I was distraught. I started shaving the next day. It got worse from there.

I hadn’t had the life experience to understand what was making me upset. I thought everyone just dissociated when they looked in mirrors. After a while, my brain formed a cyst around this thought process, in order to protect me. I stopped having dysphoric and dissociative episodes from looking in mirrors. Instead, I was just depressed all the time. I started eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by the box, frozen pepperoni pizzas whole in one sitting, frozen dutch apple pies. I hated my body so much, but I did not understand why. The facial padding that weighing 300 pounds gave me hid my prominent brow ridge, wide-set jaw and enlarged trachea. It made my cheeks puffy and baby-like. The weight also gave me breasts. I didn’t realize that I liked these things. What I hated was what the weight did to the the rest of my body, my health, my prospects of joy or life in the future.

When I decided to lose this weight, I made it happen quickly. When I am motivated, I do things very rapidly. I lost 140 pounds in nine months. As the weight came off, I felt joy and vigor at being able to do increasing levels of activity that I had not been able to do in years. Unfortunately, my sharp facial features emerged, and I started to have to build up that cyst around them in some other way. I internalized the self-hatred and channeled it into things like my career, bettering myself constantly, always striving for a better skillset, a better job. I rewarded myself with a better outward appearance, in the form of a series of increasingly fancy cars. The cars were the projection of a desire to look attractive in a way that I could not. I’d buy a new one every year. This was not healthy, even if I was starting to become more physically healthy and seem more mentally healthy.

I was a genuinely more happy person, and I thought I had “fixed myself,” all the while continuing to ignore the parts of myself that I had encysted. They went far beyond my own image in a mirror or a photo, but I’ll save these other things for discussion at a later date. In any case, I tried to live as a man. I tried for 30 years. And then, one day, I gave up. Like a meteor impacting the earth and wiping out the dinosaurs, a series of mental self-revelations careened into the stream of my life and blew away the outer shell of “Nicholas Spencer Roy.” As I started to do things to align myself with this deeply-ingrained gender identity that is different from my assigned gender at birth, the cysts started to dissolve, and all these behaviors, fears, images, reactions and thoughts came to the surface. One of the most painful turned out to be about my face. I hated, have always hated, and will always hate the prominent brow ridge, hooded orbits, wide and angular jaw, and Adam’s apple. So, I have to do something about them.

It turns out that changing these things will be expensive, but not anywhere nearly as expensive as I had feared. It’s achievable, and so I will do it. You may wonder why I would subject myself to the physical pain of this procedure, which will be significant. I can only tell you that the pain of the procedure is slight, compared to the pain of looking in the mirror. The harder, and easily the hardest part for me, is what this will do to those I love. I hope that the love you see in my slightly different face makes up for that.

Eulogy for My Dad

Who here thinks about how their life will end? I know I do. I remember thinking “is this how I die?” during a flying lesson, where my instructor got me into a spin to teach me how to recover. I have never imagined my dad dying. He has always been a larger than life figure, someone who could never die. When I saw him die, somehow the rest of the world became more real.

The day Dad died, I couldn’t really do anything except be numb. As the days passed, I discovered a feeling I had never encountered before: A longing to keep him alive by remembering things about him. This sounds pretty simple and logical. In reality, there is nothing logical about it.

I wanted to make this talk really visual, with photos of him as the focus, and I’d just tell stories about him based on those photos. As I thought about what to say about Dad, I started looking through photos, and realizing that I didn’t have many photos of him from recent times. Most of the photos of him I could find were from before I was born. Then I realized that the frustration I had felt for the last two months, trying to remember Dad, was because I didn’t know him for most of his life. I was a part of his life from the time he was about 30 years old. I really started to know him when he was about 40. So much of his life was spent doing work that he was passionate about, a field of study which requires deep knowledge, that I didn’t really know that much about that part of his life.

What I did know about him was that he was always interested in helping me and Megan learn about the things we were interested in. One of the things many of you have probably heard him say is that “Knowledge is like cow manure, it doesn’t do any good unless you spread it around.” He would go out of his way to find interesting things to bring home for us when we were in elementary school. He’d stop by Dick Blick and get foam core, rulers, exacto knives and cutting surfaces for Megan to use to make buildings. He’d go to university surplus and bring home an old DEC teletype terminal (the kind where there isn’t a video screen, there’s a printer that the computer types words on to, and you type words into it, all printed on the piece of chain-fed paper). He’d take me down to the basement of the university computer center, where his buddy Al was a technician in the computer support area. I remember being amazed at the huge computers whirring away behind glass walls, their tape drives spinning back and forth, lights blinking. Al had a brand new NeXT computer, a 1 foot black cube that I was fascinated by. I remember when Dad did the first iteration of what would end up becoming the art and life in africa web site. This was in about 1988, and the technology available involved taking photographs of different views of every piece of art in the Stanley collection, transporting them to 3M headquarters in Minneapolis, where they were scanned using a flying spot scanner on to individual frames of a Laserdisc which could be indexed by a computer. You’d type the piece of art you were looking for into a computer program, and it would control the Laserdisc player to bring up the art on a TV screen, and you could slide a slider around on the computer to rotate the art. Eventually, this became the art and life in africa CD-ROM program, and finally the web site. I learned about how computers work from these kinds of experiences that he made possible.

When I was in high school, Dad made a deal with me – he’d double any money that I saved up from a summer job, and we’d use it to buy me a computer. I spent all summer working at Hardee’s on the Coralville strip, and saved up about $800. $1600 was just enough to buy a brand new Macintosh and color monitor at the computer center.

I don’t have any photos of my Dad from this time – about the closest I have are a couple of pictures of him and my mom at Grand Teton National Park in 2003. I have fading memories of a very important part of my life, that really only he and I shared. Now he’s not here, and that part of me has lost the only other person who remembered some of those things.

I miss Dad’s laugh. I miss calling him on a Sunday and him saying “hi, buddy” to me, and us talking about his web site, model airplanes, the garden, or other things happening in his life. But there are things I will always remember – swimming in an ice cold lake, out to an island, with him in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Packing what felt like tons of food and supplies over portages in the Boundary Waters. Sitting in our tent, reading in the evening. He was reading about Captain James Cook, I was reading about Captain James Kirk.

I’ve come to realize that it’s not important that I know or remember everything about Dad’s life, because one of the things that happens when you die, is that your life’s work – including the work of raising your kids and being a partner to your spouse – dissolves into the world. You lose any semblance of control over your own destiny and the destinies of the people you care about. In return, what you were is dissolved into the fabric of everything those people do, and the impacts they have on others. I know that Dad’s granddaughter, Sylvia, will get to do some really fun and interesting stuff, at least partly because Megan will remember how fun it was to go camping in the southwest with Mom and Dad, and how important it was that her intellectual interests were known and cared about by them from a very young age.

I’m grateful that Dad’s memory will continue on through everyone in this room, and through the thousands of students whose lives he changed imperceptibly, who will remember his stories about art and life.

If I can live to have a fraction of the kind of positive effect my dad had on the world, it will be a good life. If I can die surrounded by love, like he did, it will have been worth living.

848ET9112001

Today the world ended and was reborn in an instant, out of the sheetrock and neatly filed papers, let loose in the sky, all those things that no longer seem important.

On TV, the path of a jet from Boston is traced out, over the ponds and streams and mountains and lakes where I was born, over the Berkshire Connector, over the road to Montreal.
Banking swiftly into a straight line with that feeling you get when history is ripped free of itself and the universe that had been falls away.

What we feel in the pit of our stomach, when a tsunami breaks in the quantum foam, when the underlying connections are ripped clean for an instant. And the true humanity of it all is made plain by an exodus of human beings, people walking calmly and quietly, hand in hand, helping the injured, making their way together across the bridge of time.

In memory of those who fell
And the universe they carried with them