March 1, 2018
Joyful Pain and Painless Joy, Part 1
Emily Jo Donatello
(call me “Em”)
Please open the audio below and listen while reading this entry:
Irma Thomas was 68 years old when she performed here with the Jools Holland Band.
As the song begins, note that its title, as labeled on the Irma Thomas original “Imperial Records” release, is “Break-A-Way.” The double edge in that word play underscores all in my own thoughts, recounted here.
“You have got a spell on me that just can’t be broken, no, no…”
My fully transitioned friends and others of my transgender friends, my wife too, have been equally unequivocal in their entreaty to me: to be free, their plea, get thee to a therapy. Now I followed that advice for sixteen months, seeing a therapist experienced in transgender matters. At first I visited in male mode but soon “transitioned” to Emily for our sessions.
Those sessions, I’d say, were somewhat helpful. Mostly they helped me to begin conquering my terror at being “out and about,” as we say. In those days I had many issues for fear of being “made.” Where I was renting at the time, I had the additional concern as my landlord knew my male side’s professional history and reputation. Although he was never around the apartment to encounter my female side, the neighbors could and, once or twice, did. I had to be unusually cautious about such encounters, lest one of the neighbors mention the wrong thing to the landlord, who, although not the brightest bulb in the marquee, might decide to ask questions. Worse, he might decide to tell stories.
In the two periods of my renting from him, a total of about fifteen months, spread over two years, he never asked the wrong questions of me and, so far as I know, never told stories about me to others.
These days, renting an apartment from an incurious stranger who is also an infrequent, and never unannounced, visitor, I’ve become somewhat less fearful about going out, particularly when I’m in company. In this complex the neighbors, as close as before, seem less interested in activity from my doorway. As a result, my own confidence is improving. My main goal currently is to “get out there” as much as I can. Since I have the luxury of an apartment solely devoted to Emily’s life, success in reaching my goal is appreciated even more through my pleasure in hosting friends. I feel I should encourage others to visit so they may share some of the freedom I’ve purchased. Several, Joanne, Jennie and one of my cherished fully-transitioned friends, have visited already. I hope they’ll all come back as often as schedules allow. I’m wishing for more friends to visit too. Hosting (or is it “Hostessing?”) is fun for me and aids my growing confidence in myself.
Yet I have not been to therapy for more than five months. Before Thanksgiving I’d begun having misgivings about the point of therapy, for me anyway. I understood the business aspect of it for the Therapist (not at all impugning her integrity by my recognizing that). But, I confess, as several closest to me know, I’ve never fully believed in the concept of therapy. Deep within me I suppose I don’t trust that a stranger, one I see for fifty minutes a week at best, will ever understand me enough to provide more than expensive bromides. Nevertheless, several whom I love have extolled the value of professional counseling. They’ve said only a “neutral” party can be a companion along the road to self-discovery. Three have pleaded with me to try it and to stick with it.
Out of love and respect I have. After a year my doubts re-surfaced. I saw the sessions as expensive excuses for me to dress and drive to a public place (the Therapist worked from a suite in an upscale hotel), there to interact, albeit briefly, not only with her but with hotel staff and, to a certain extent, with the members of the general public who would, on a weekday afternoon, find themselves in the lobby and hallways of a suburban hotel. Sitting on a chair outside the suite’s door, I would encounter the occasional guest or a housekeeper or housekeeping supervisor on an appointed round. I would smile at the passing few. Some of them would smile too. Mostly the passing would pass as expressionless as automatons. I was fine with either the smile or the mask. Now and then, when my gumption was high, I’d offer a few words of greeting. Those usually elicited something in return, generally mumbles, some glances. I was fine with those too.
Yes, I did raise my rising doubts with the Therapist. She responded that, for many people, therapy required a commitment of years. In the discussion I remembered the actor, Alan Arkin, once saying in an interview that he did not have his own breakthrough in therapy until after six years of failure. I was not fortified from my doubts by anecdotes from either the Therapist or the actor. In all my sixteen months with her, the Therapist gave me only two pieces of what I’d call practical advice: be who you are; be selfish about it.
The Therapist would often chide me for worrying so much about what others might think or what responsibilities to others I felt I needed to fulfill. “You don’t worry enough about yourself,” she said during one session; again in another. In that sentiment she may well have been right. I think I knew it already, despite not observing it diligently enough. Transgender friends had said the same: only worry about yourself.
Worrying only about myself is hard for me to do, next to impossible. Inherent in my nature, and visible to myself and others throughout my life has been a need – yes, I’d say need – to assist or help others. Early in my life I felt certain I’d become a priest. Ultimately I didn’t, of course, but the instincts which led to my seriously considering a vocation were themselves converted into further service in other ways. In a portion of my career I spent a lot of time protecting people from dangers, physical and otherwise. Now, I’m told, be more selfish.
I want to do so, but we should first re-define the word “selfish” into something more like “self-aware” or “self-interested” or even “self-composed.” My aim, now that I see my end much closer than my beginning is to bring Emily into myself and, thereby, at last see her for who and what she is; at last be able to say, “This is who I am.”
During these past thirty months I have grown both internally and – amazingly – externally. This is me this week. Is this really me?
I can’t breakaway, I can’t say goodbye
No I’ll never never breakaway from you, no, no
No, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no, no
No, no, no, no, no
email: firstname.lastname@example.org (mind the underscores, or you’ll — like me — trip in writing)