Monday, October 20, 2008

A Lot Has Changed in 40 Years

By Monica F. Helms

In 2009, I will be attending my 40-year high school reunion, so it got me thinking about all that has transpired in the last 40 years. Ah, yes, I’m from the Class of ’69. What a wonderful number. But sadly, I digress.

Next year, there will be a lot of celebrations in the LGBT community. After all, the Stonewall Riots took place in late June, 1969. I can easily bet that LGBT blogs across the internet will be lit up like Christmas trees with articles about the Stonewall riots and other related events in the month of June. Because of the incoming flood of articles, I don’t need to elaborate here in this article. However, I can’t wait to see what others will write.

On July 20, 2009, it will be the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Hard to believe it was that long ago when Armstrong said those famous words, “That’s one small step for man . . .” You know the rest. Since then, NASA has lost fourteen astronauts on two Shuttle disasters, four of the original seven astronauts have passed away, leaving just two left. Gus Grissom died before the Apollo 11’s mission, but John Glenn got to become the oldest man to fly in space when he went up in the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1998.

We have seen spectacular far-distant photos from the Hubble Telescope and dozens of missions to the outer planets, found planets orbiting other stars, found water on Mars and many other wonders that still amaze us. We continue to add onto the International Space Station, but . . . we have not returned to the moon or gone to Mars. Am I disappointed? Yes. I wanted to see a person walking on Mars before I die, and it doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Another thing took place in 1969 that will forever be remembered, at least by my generation. From August 15 to 18, in a tiny rural community near Bethel, NY, nearly a half million people attended what would be a defining moment in the history of rock music. Woodstock. The music, the groups, the people, the drugs, the rain, the mud and all that made up the “hippie” culture of the era came together to celebrate and define who we were. Many music events have happened since, but none that will be remembered like Woodstock.

1969 brought a lot of pain and sorrow, and a lot of joy and love. We had lost Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King a year earlier and the deep pain of those events still lingered. The Vietnam War waged on, with no end in sight. The battle of Hamburger Hill took place in May of that year. In January, The Beatles gave their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records. Hurricane Camille hit the coast of Mississippi during Woodstock, killing 248 people. The My Lai Massacre and the Chicago Eight trial took place in September. The first draft lottery since WWII happened in December, as did the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont. Wendy’s and Wal-Mart started in that year. One of the best things to come out of 1969 was the premier of Sesame Street in early November. The year will always be memorable for many reasons.

As the world changed, so did I. What can I tell my classmates from the Class of ’69 about my life today? In 1999 on our 30 Year Reunion, I surprised the hell out of them when they discovered that one of their male classmates had become a woman. At the time, I had only been living in my new life for just two years, so I did not a lot to tell them about this change or what I had experienced. Also, I wore a name tag that didn’t give away who I had been in high school.

At the Friday event, some would come up to me and say, “You look familiar, but I can’t remember what classes we had together.” I stepped closer to them and whispered in their ear, “I’ll give you a hint. I used to be a guy.” Their eyes got big and their jaws dropped.

Another way I would befuddle them would be to open the page of the yearbook I was on – which had about 20 pictures – and tell them I was on that page. Since I changed my last name, they had to try and pick me out by facial features. I also came to the conclusion that the ones who treated me badly at the reunion would have also acted like jerks had I remained a man. But, I also made new friends at the reunion.

On the Saturday night semi-formal event, I wore a sexy, low-cut dress. One of my male classmates walked up to me, looked down at my breasts, then looked up and asked, “Did you get that dress for the reunion?”

“No. But, a girl has to show off her best attributes.” He rolled his eyes and walked away.

Later, I approached the only person who was “out” in high school, Chris. We didn’t hang out together, but we did have some of the same friends. I came up to him and said, “Chris, you may not recognize me, but I used to be . . .” His eyes got big and he said, “I want to dance with you.”

After the DJ started playing music, I requested Cher’s “Believe,” because of its popularity back then. When he started playing it, I went out on the dance floor and motioned Chris to join me. Hell, he was a fantastic dancer! He twirled me around, moved me across the floor and we danced as if we had been doing it for years. We were the only two on the dance floor. No one else dared to come out. It felt great, and I had to laugh. The class’ only out gay man and the only known transsexual were dancing together. I later found out that in order for him to work his way through college to become a brain surgeon in New York City, he taught dance lessons. It showed.

That was ten years ago. I walked away with the award for the “Most Changed.” (Duh?) But, what can I expect in 2009? I have no idea. I hadn’t advanced much in my transition, but now, I have done a lot to help others . . . or so they tell me. I have made history and observed history being made, but it came with a price and a lot of sadness. Three of my friends committed suicide and one was murdered. Yet, I am semi-successful and I have many more friends than any other point in my life.

A few people go to reunions to rub their success in their classmates’ faces, usually being the ones who had been treated like shit in school. No one treated me like shit, so I have no motivation of revenge. I go because some of them had been my friends and they need to see the person I kept hidden away for 46 years. They need to know that trans people are real and not crazy like some may believe. They need to see for themselves.

Next year will be a big one for many reasons. If the election polls are correct, we will see the swearing in of the first African American as President of the United States. Again, I get to observe history being made. The LGBT community will be celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Stonewall in many unique ways. MTV will probably have a special on Woodstock, while Baby-Boomers who attended may wander back to Yasgar’s farm to revel in the nostalgia. The History Channel will have a lot of space-related programs, ending with a big one about Apollo 11. They will probably also have programs about My Lai and the Battle of Hamburger Hill, while the Weather Channel will show us footage of the destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Camille.

For me, I will be heading back to Phoenix, alone, yes, but proud of whom I have become. I have taken on a huge challenge and came through successfully. But, it has taken a lot out of me. I’ll be 58 at my reunion, and I sometimes feel it. The dancing will be slower and the conversations will be deeper. But, like everything else I do these days, it will be an opportunity to educate. I can’t wait.

1 comment:

Zoe Brain said...

On my 30th a few years ago, I had a similar experience. Oddly, it was only the gay guys who didn't get it though.

I blogged about it before.. and after, with pictures.

I was still in transition, only 4 months in, not even ramped up on HRT. And it was a boys' school, so there was no dancing.

But yes, it was an opportunity to educate. As will be the 35th, coming up in 2 years.

Well done, Monica.