Wednesday, March 22, 2023

‘There’s no downside’


     “Sometimes I look up and wonder, ‘What the hell happened?’” says John, sliding into a booth at Dapper’s East, a classic family-style restaurant on West Addison.
     We order coffee, no food. John doesn’t want lunch, which strikes me as unusual.
     “Do you not eat, as a practice?” I venture.
     No, by necessity. Stomach cancer. Fifteen years ago.
     “They took the whole thing out,” says John, who doesn’t want his last name used. “I beat the odds, but lost my appetite at some point.”
     We last saw each other in 1992. I had been browsing the classifieds in the Reader, looking for story ideas, and noticed an ad for the store he owned on Elston Avenue, selling women’s clothing in large sizes to men.
     “Now there’s a business you just don’t see in the paper much,” I thought, and headed over and met John, when he dressed as a man, and Karen, when she dressed as a woman.
    Focusing just on the One to One Boutique seemed to miss the larger story. So I broadened my scope, attending a dance held by the Chicago Gender Society, also visiting a safe house — an empty apartment used to stash clothing and wigs and makeup away from prying eyes.
     The store is long gone. When did that happen?
     “The Yankees were just winning their first series in a long time” — says John, a baseball fan. “So it must have been ’96.”
     The resultant story was written without any snickering or judgment: just a group of ordinary people who are unusual in a certain way, trying to comprehend what motivates them. It’s an approach I wish more Americans would embrace: to at least entertain the possibility that people different from themselves can be understood instead of simply condemned.
     Cut to last fall, and a letter from a reader about the possibility of Texas secession. At the end, he mentions, “We met about 30 years ago. I’m the person on Elston ...”
     This seemed an opportunity to better understand the connection, if any, between men who dress as women — called “transvestites” 30 years ago — and another, possibly related, group much in the news lately: trans men and women.
     Even then, there were two distinct categories: transvestites, who were straight men, for the most part, dressing as women, and transsexuals, men who defined themselves as women, or women who defined themselves as men, and sometimes transitioned through hormones and surgery.
     We begin at the beginning.
     “My dirty dark secret is, I’m from Mount Greenwood,” says John. “I did not fit in well there.”
     I'll bet....

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4 comments:

  1. It’s always good to see posts about transgender people as people. In the current political climate, there is a tendency on the part of some to forget that, to assume that we (transgender people) are part of some political movement, as opposed to individuals living our lives, trying to find and share meaning and love, just like other people. So I think it’s good to remind people, through pieces like this, that we are individuals. I think the more people there are who see us as individual people, the less successful current attempts to marginalize us will be. My experience is very different from John’s; I transitioned through hormones and surgery, and I both consider myself, and am, a woman. But we are both transgender. There have been recent developments in the study of epigenetics which suggest that being transgender is, indeed, something we are born with. —Joanie Wimmer

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  2. How hypocritical it is of those who reject the reality that defines transgender people. On the one hand they want people to be free to be who they are. On the other, they make stipulations.

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  3. I read years ago that what the eye perceives as color is the refraction of light - colors change depending on environmental factors, genetic traits of the human eye, and even input from other senses. What if our notions of gender, race, ethnicity - - all the qualities that humans use to sort each other - what if they no longer mattered? What if we were all able to be the best versions of ourselves? Judged solely by our character and equal under the eyes of the law?

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  4. "Mount Greenwood. I did not fit in well there." That's like hearing a Jew say: "I lived in Munich in 1938. I did not fit in well there. All that broken glass." Mount Greenwood. Wow. Mt. Greenwood. Fourth-highest percentage of Irish-Americans in the entire country. Mount Greenwood. Notorious for intolerance and parochialism. Easy to envision the living hell that John endured for so many years.

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