A Friday Party

From the moment she walks in, I know she is a “she”.

I was at my friend’s birthday party, having arrived a little early with a bottle of Vielle Ferme rosé that I promptly drank half of. She came about an hour later. Six feet tall, shaggy haired, with bright blue eyes. Outwardly she presents as a male, but I have an eye for others like me (T-Dar, one might call it), and something about her spoke to me.

She’s shy, it’s her first party since she started college, so I set about talking to her, trying to draw her from her shell. I pour her a gin and sparkling water. I learn she loves Geography, that she’s of eclectic tastes in music and art, and like me is bad at texting- in short, practically perfect.

A little later, outside, while I smoke a cigarette, she confesses what I already know- that she is a girl, and she’s scared to transition.

“I know, khroshka, I know,” I reply.

“What does ‘khroshka‘ mean?” she asks.

“It means ‘good little one’, using your name-”

“-feels wrong?” she finishes with a laugh and a small smile.


When we go back inside, my friend Christine asks, “are you going to get drunk enough to Russian dance?”

“Only if I speed up,” I remark with a laugh.

She immediately presents me with another strong drink.

“Drink up!”

I do as told, and go with Khroshka into the living room, empty save for a sleeping drunk, and I commandeer the speaker.

“Do you dance a lot?” my thin, bright-eyed companion asks me.

“Only when I’m drunk,” I say, offering my hand as the Russian Sailor’s Dance I selected begins to play.

“Oh, I don’t know how!” she protests.

“Neither do I!” I laugh, taking her into my arms. We begin to dance, kicking to one side then the other, whirling around and stamping our feet to the claps of the dance and the strum of the balalaika. It has been months since I dance with someone, and though I tire quickly I persist, enjoying the unmistakably feminine gasp of delight from my partner, the laughter, the warm throb of alcohol-laden blood through my veins.

After two songs I smile and say,

Basta! Enough!” and I pick her up, smiling at her delight and surprise.


Why I Hate to Write “Happy”

I’m in the midst of a major rewrite of An Unremarkable Girl at the moment. It’s a top-to-toe affair. Our first draft of the manuscript was not “bad” per say, but my writing especially came off more as a compendium of analytical essays about the various psychological and cultural concepts that have affected my life rather than a memoir of a transgirl fighting to assert her identity in the face of many challenges. It was antiseptic in many places, as opposed to being visceral, which is what a good memoir should be.

As I write along, following a stricter chronology than the first draft, I’ve come to a section that really needs to be about the happy parts of my childhood, the amazing food, the trips to Europe, the loving attention and near-infinite patience my parents showed me throughout my elementary school years. This should be a piece of cake, I keep thinking, because happy idylls are nice to write about. This doesn’t have to be viscerally painful. Or does it?

Here’s the thing- I’ve always preferred writing tragedy. My short stories are usually set in the Soviet Union during the Second World War or the decade following it, i.e. in a bleak war-ravaged and psychologically damaged country, following the travails of partizans, veterans, and others who gave their bodies and souls for the Motherland. Why? Because aside from my historical passion for Stalin’s Soviet Union, it’s easy to find drama and plot in that particular period of history. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of conflict, and some great stories to be told against the backdrop of war and the painful, jerky recovery from that war.

So when I’m called, as I am now, to write about the good times in my own life, my Schreibdrüse (“writing gland” in German), suddenly shrivels up. It’s not as interesting or naturally compelling to me to write about good times because they lack conflict, but it is also harder for me to write about good times in my own life because I’m still grieving their loss. When my parents told me they were getting divorced, in August of 2008, that world, the world of dinner parties and nearly annual trips to Europe, was lost. I still bear the bruise from that cosmic punch to the gut.

That bruise doesn’t sting when I write about the divorce. I’ve talked about the divorce a lot, I’ve been in therapy for a decade and have spent perhaps 45% of that time working through my issues around that cataclysm. I’m over the divorce in and of itself. What I’m not over is the loss of the halcyon days of childhood. When I recall them, that bruise stings and aches. Hence the Schreibdrüse shrivelling problem.
I still have to write it. Without the happy times as context, my parents’ sudden divorce won’t hit the reader the way it hit me, like a ton of bricks falling from a clear blue sky, and that’s a necessary part of the book. To understand why my teenage years were such a special kind of hell it needs to be prefaced by how heavenly much of my childhood was. So I’m trying to slog through it, and “slog” really is the word, as I feel with this portion that I’m trying to traverse a swamp after knocking back ten large gin and tonics.
So I tempt myself onward. I reward myself with a cigarette after an hour of banging my fingers against the keys, even if the end result is essentially pond scum in written form. I bait myself by saying “you can write a depressing story about Russia just as soon as you finish this.” Eventually (and hopefully in the very short future), I’ll have written a whole coherent piece about the halcyon and happy days. And when I have, I will write such a tragedy as the world has never seen.

(I have to write about this: Pot au Feu, wonderful French dinners with fine wines that my parents and I shared every night. I grew up on two and three course dinners, with a fantastic chef for a father. I was a spoiled kid.)Pot au Feu

An Unremarkable Girl

When I was born, my birth certificate came with two glaring errors. The first was the name, a name which though well-intended, proved to be cruelly ironic- “Truman”. The second was the gender, “Male”. I don’t blame my parents for giving me that name, nor do I blame the hospital for assuming that the squalling kid with a penis was a boy. But as soon as I started to form consciousness, I knew something was wrong, that if boys and girls were different and mutually exclusive categories I had been sorted into the wrong one. Throughout my childhood I wished desperately that I’d simply wake up one morning as a girl, the mistake corrected. I didn’t desire to be a great beauty, an inspiration, or a heroine- I just wanted to be an unremarkable girl.

As I grew older and realised that I was not alone in my feelings, that others in “male bodies” felt whole-heartedly that they were girls. At thirteen I  learned the word “transgender”, and realised that the label was accurate in the extreme- though assigned male at birth, I felt at the core of my being that I was a girl. This discovery did not spur a radical self-acceptance, however. I didn’t want to be trans, because all the examples of trans individuals I’d seen in media were either punchlines or punching bags, deliberately mocked, made into masculine parodies of femininity. I didn’t want to be like that- I still just wished to be an unremarkable girl, hopefully cute, but not one who’d stand out in a crowd.

The years that followed were years of depression, self-denial, suicidal thoughts and occasional attempts, until finally in 2014 I resolved to go forward, to be who I was. In March of 2015, I began HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy), and came out to the world at large as Miss Beatrice Washburn. In September of 2017, I finally corrected the twenty-two year old mistake on my birth certificate, legally becoming the girl I’ve been since my earliest days. Between those two momentous events, my mother and I began to write a book, which we have titled An Unremarkable Girl. It is the story of becoming myself, the story of my mother’s frankly heroic struggle to support me and see me through the darkest moments to the other side. We are still crafting this story, still living it, and in these electronic pages I hope to show what it’s like to write a book and to be a transgender woman in Salt Lake City Utah in the time of Trump.

The final irony is that I will never be an unremarkable girl. I am six feet and two inches tall, transgender, a socialist, a monarchist (yes you can be both, but it’s not easy), and I am an unabashed geek when it comes to my passions. The journey to becoming myself meant becoming remarkable, for good or for ill.