“Heartbreak and Detox” Is Now Available for $0.99

torn heart

“Heartbreak and Detox” is now available as a Kindle eBook.

You can now read my short memoir of trans masculine identity, love, and pain management, “Heartbreak and Detox,” on Kindle. The story originally reviewed in “Manning Up:  Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves,” is now available through Amazon for just $0.99.

Heartbreak and Detox, Kindle Edition

Kate Bartolotta, author of “Heart Medicine” writes:

Justin Cascio’s “Heartbreak and Detox” reminds us that bullying doesn’t necessarily end with childhood, and love—even when it looks complicated on the outside—is often quite simple. …Cascio’s story offers a bittersweet look at the lifelong search for intimacy that transcends gender and orientation, and like many other stories, never truly ends.

Read “Heartbreak and Detox” now.

Cover art courtesy of Neal Fowler/Flickr

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“Heartbreak and Detox” is coming

Justin Cascio reads Heartbreak and DetoxA story of courage, transgender identity, and yes, heartbreak, coming soon on Amazon.

Not all of my stories develop such a life of their own, or recapitulate their themes when they do, but “Heartbreak and Detox” has brought me pride, grief, and hope since its publication.

I mentioned here in February that my story was accepted into an anthology from Transgress Press, “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves.” The book was published in June, and has received fine reviews. I was proud to see my work in print, and read my story at a book launch event in the Boston area last month, where I was gratified by the reception. As many writers can testify, reading one’s work aloud connects the author and his audience with his words in a way that nothing else can.

However, not everyone was happy with my work. Someone I was once close to, and who I mention in my story, was upset to see her name used. Upon consideration of this fact, the publishers at Transgress Press have decided to remove my story from future editions of “Manning Up.”

This is an ironic twist, given the story’s themes of betrayal, bullying, and heartbreak. But she—and from here on I will call her “Mary Ann”—does not get to decide what I write about, particularly when it’s true. I know where I stand as a writer. My story is a powerful one, and it remains true, whatever names are used.

I still want to share my story, so I am preparing to release “Heartbreak and Detox” as a single eBook through Amazon. For a dollar, you will be able to read my story of “manning up” in the face of “indifferent fathers, screaming mothers,” and bullies, then and now.

If you’d like to see more before making this investment in my more intimate writing, here are a couple of essays I’ve published on The Good Men Project:

How We Talk About What Turns Us On

In Defense of the One-Night Stand

 

Heartbreak and Detox” will be available very soon from Amazon.

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How to be wrong without regret

Sacrifice of Isaac

I owe a debt for my existence, not just to my genetic ancestors, but to my cultural predecessors.

Heritage is more than genealogical descent

There’s more than one way to reckon descent: there is the genealogical, the genetic, the cultural. I count Benjamin Franklin as a grandfather on the basis that I was raised by public libraries. I’m a product of values and revolutions in thought going back centuries. I have more parents and grandparents in movements for knowledge, pride, and justice than I can count.

But most of the people who have lived and made my life better aren’t in the history books. Although I was pretty sure my family didn’t arrive in the United States until after 1850, and never owned slaves (or were enslaved), I knew that I owed a debt for the privileges that have come to me as a white American, that my life and identity are based upon, that I did nothing to create. I began to wonder where my ancestors were, exactly, while America was becoming the place that would change our destinies. What did that intersection look like, where my family joined the American experience, and what led up to it?

The myth of starting from nothing

Lots of people are curious about their family origins, but have not sought them out. Some might not know where to begin, not even what questions to ask that would get them started. The advice that other genealogists give to newbies is to capture living knowledge, by talking to the oldest members of one’s family. I did this by proxy: my sister interviewed our great-uncle Joseph Cascio in 2001, for an anthropology class project. When I declared an interest in putting together our genealogy, she emailed me her final paper, and a few other documents, including a table of names and dates that derived from our great uncle Warren’s research on the other side of our family. Right from the beginning, I was relying upon the work of others.

I could figure out some of the relationships among people in the table, but others were mysteries. Not only might I misinterpret what data I had, but the data itself might be incorrect: there were no citations, no sources. I would have to confirm every name and date in a primary document. On an intuitive level, I understood the great chasm between having questionable facts—otherwise known as hypotheses—and nothing at all. Researching my family’s genealogy has been a rewarding lesson in acting with confidence, while still leaving room to be wrong.

Induction

I knew that Cascio was not an uncommon surname, but when I began my search for Leoluca Cascio—my great-grandfather, who immigrated from Corleone, Sicily—I still assumed that his first name was unusual. After reviewing a few hundred birth records, and finding the second or third Leoluca Cascio, I began to realize my error. Cascio is a common surname throughout Italy, but it turns out that Leoluca is an exceptionally popular name in Corleone because he is a patron saint of the town. I’ve since found at least twenty men who lived in Corleone who were named Leoluca Cascio. I’ve also found five Angela Grizzaffis (the name of his mother, my great-great-grandmother) and innumerable Marias, Antoninos, Gaetanas, and Giuseppes.

Engaging in inductive research helped me understand the context in which those records existed. Captured initially by the Catholic Church, then the Mormon church, now online for my convenience, I had the leisure to develop mastery. I could even come to anticipate certain common errors.

I’d at first assumed that in Italian records, the name “Cascio” would always be spelled the same way. No more “Cassios” or “Cashios,” as I find in US Census records. But in Sicilian dialect, new issues emerge. “Cascio” sounds like “Castro.” In fact, so many Cascios and Castros are called by the other’s name, in one record or another, that to skip all of the Castros in the Corleone records on the assumption that they’re not my relatives would mean missing a lot of family.

I’d also been ignoring the “Lo Cascio” name in my searches, not appreciating just how often surnames would be rendered variously in the plural or the singular (“Colletti” and “Colletto,” for instance), or with or without an article or prefix, like “Lo” or “Di.” In English, “Lo Cascio” is alphabetized in the Ls—is a separate name—from “Cascio.” Not so to the Italian speaker. I took another look at the Lo Cascios, and found that they were the same family, sometimes the same individuals, referred to by different versions of the same name.

Don’t expect capital “T” truth

These were not the only errors in the records. In US Census records, my grandfather appears as a female in one census, and my great-great-grandmother appears as a man in another. I’ve found a small handful of Sicilian baptismal records that I believe get the name of one parent entirely wrong, possibly confused with a godparent or another relative. More common is for calculated birth years to float, with people seeming to grow older or younger over time, based on their reported ages. The worst offenders are death records, for the scientific reasons that at one’s maximal age and no longer able to self-report, there is the greatest margin of error. When an infant dies, the age is generally reported with the utmost accuracy by the grieving parents, even down to the day.

There is some consistency to the inconsistency, or at least patterns to it, and the best way to discover them is to take as large a sample as possible. I discovered the Cascio/Castro conflation because of one man with an uncommon name. When I started my research, with my assumptions about what “real” Italian names sound like, I could not have guessed at the difference in popularity between the names Leoluca and Spiridione. Thousands of records later, I could compose “Top Baby Name” lists for boys and girls of 19th century Corleone off the top of my head.

Find meaning in the absence of proof

After a couple months of searching, when I couldn’t seem to make a connection between nearer and more distant ancestors, I started to despair of ever being able to prove my genealogical history. I wondered if my grandmother had pulled my leg all those years ago, with her stories of going to Corleone with Grandpa, to visit cousins.

I grew existential: obviously I am here, I thought, and was born of two people who in turn came from two parents, and so forth. Would that have to be a sufficient answer to the question I’d posed about how we became American? I had a few more advantages in this search than many people, and I wanted to be able to say that I’d done all I could to discover what I could about where I am from: that I hadn’t wasted the privilege. I made my cast wider, kept searching for a sibling group that matched great-uncle Joseph’s story.

Build bridges

The first time I opened a document full of messily handwritten Latin, full of abbreviations, I slammed it shut again (to the extent one can “slam” shut a browser tab). I was daunted at the prospect of reviewing several thousand page long record books in two foreign languages.  But as my comfort level rose, that messy handwriting became a beguiling thicket, in which knowledge was hidden, and I couldn’t stay away. Even now, every time I see my name written on a page, I feel like I’ve found Waldo.

The first time I looked at a ship manifest, it didn’t dawn on me how the people traveling together might be related. I did not even recognize some of the travelers as nuclear families: I hadn’t realized that Sicilian women kept their surnames their whole lives, and didn’t consider it until I’d seen them preserved in Corleonesi records.

There is not only one passenger on a ship manifest, a single person in isolation. By looking at everyone else who came from Corleone at the same time, understanding the naming conventions, and taking in all of the details—who they’re with, who they’re traveling to join—families emerged. When my ancestor, Angela Grizzaffi, came to the United States, she went to her sister’s family, bringing four of her children. Later, her brother joined her with two more of his sister’s children. In the years that follow, I can see at least three nephews of Angela immigrate, and go to stay with her.

It’s not only the direct line of descent who have brought me here, but all of those aunts and uncles, godparents and cousins and step-parents, who supported them. And though the family legend condenses the sibling group to a single immigration, the truth is messier: I’ve seen whole families make the trip more than once, and young children traveling alone to meet their parents. Only by collecting all of the records, seeing them in context, and assembling them, could I make sense of the recorded facts.

Be ready to be wrong

It should be possible to determine whether new data confirms what’s already known, or contradicts previously established facts. Once I became ready to be wrong, I prepared more thorough and clear notes that explain what I know and how I know it, in a way that will be easy for a stranger (such as a distant relative) to understand, and to update in the face of new information. In the case of a conflict, I can thoroughly document the facts as they’re presented, allowing for the opportunity to later update my analysis, instead of simply deciding to replace one fact with another, in the order that they come to my attention.

Being ready to be wrong means not just building a tight argument for my case, but explaining it with courtesy and tact. One of the many inaccurate opinions I initially held of genealogy was that it would keep me safely far from the messiness of relations with my living family members, in the realm of the dead, who could not argue with me on inaccuracies in their life events or the ways in which I’ve presented them. Instead, researching my ancestors has brought me into contact with living relatives I have never met, and in some cases, never knew existed. I’ve developed an appreciation for those great uncles who became interested in these questions of our origins, and did the foundational work on which I have built. That some of what they discovered was inaccurate is less important, in the long run, because without their steps, I would not have taken my own.

I believe what happened to me and great uncle Warren, is likely to happen to my son: that he’ll reach an age where he suddenly cares about words that had previously rung hollow for him, as they once did for me: heritage, legacy, respect for the dead. Maybe that extra generation he and my niece are removed from Sicilian culture will make the postings of banns, Latin baptismal names, formalized class divisions, and strong family ties, that much more foreign as to be unintelligible to them. I might be the necessary link, the generation who is able to bridge the gap between the 18th and 21st centuries.

On the same day that I met my Corleonesi cousins through WikiTree, I was contacted by another person who thought we might be related, on my mother’s side. At first I wanted to dismiss this message as someone casting about in the dark, hoping to find someone who’s done this work already. How quickly I forget that I did not start my own search from nothing.

I studied the names she sent me carefully, looked at my own tree, asked questions. In the end, I had to tell her that I didn’t think we were related, but to do so in a way that leaves the door open for either of us to discover that I am wrong about this, as well.

 

Image: “Sacrifice of Isaac,” Caravaggio, detail. Courtesy of carulmare.

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“Manning Up” and Becoming Whole

justin in sequoia

On getting broken down and building oneself back up again.

I’m two months out from back surgery, and beginning to feel like myself again. For more than a year, I suffered crippling back and leg pain from what might be a very old injury. The body awareness I’ve regained from surgery is joined by the sense of being gladly alive and sensate, after stripping the dulling layer of pain medication.

While I was still in the throes of my ordeal, and many months from resolution, I wrote and massively revised a story, “Heartbreak and Detox,” which was accepted for publication in a new transmasculine anthology called “Manning Up: Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves,” edited by Zander Keig and Mitch Kellaway. Keig co-edited the 2011 Lambda Literary Finalist, Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect.

“This anthology will help provide the much-needed space for trans men to reposition gender change within the context of their lives as humans connected intimately with others,” writes Kellaway.

I’m at a bus stop and I hear my name being called, and try to pretend that I didn’t. I’d already seen her and Luc when I heard him innocently shout to me. He doesn’t realize how it wounds me to see her, my ex’s new girlfriend, who is with him. Of course she and Luc are friends. They’re all friends, in this small town, the whole queer, poly, trans and allied, kinky hipster crowd. Just not with me.

Avoidance of mutual friends is one of the stages of grief, but it’s not the first. We live in the same town. I used to go past her house every week. When we started dating, crossing the railroad tracks between our neighborhoods became a heightened experience, like crossing between worlds. Now her house is like a rotting tooth in my mouth that I can’t help but probe with my tongue.

 

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Trans 101: What is the process to change one’s sex?

transgender surgery, Chaz Bono, Lana Wachowski, female transgender, male transgender, sex change, transgender surgery

What is the process of transition for a trans person? (Hint: there is no process)

“How does that work?” and, “how long does it take?” are just a couple of the questions that people who haven’t been through the sex change process ask. For those about to transition—new trans people—it’s natural to want to know what is in store for them. The people around them, the allies, families, and friends of new trans people, may never have considered what a transgender person has to go through to achieve body congruence. Most people don’t have to think about what it means to go through a sex change, yet they may hold unspoken assumptions about the process, such as that there is a single “transgender surgery.”

What is a gender transition? How does it happen?

In some people’s imaginations, it works like this: “Andy” wakes up one morning and decides to change his gender. He goes down to the Department of Transgender, talks to a social worker, fills out a lot of forms, and a few weeks later he’s packing his bags. Andy disappears from society for a few days or months, then returns, legally the same person, but transformed. A surgeon in Thailand “chops off her penis”—this is the medical terminology—and her body is magically feminized: leg hair falls out, and razor sharp cheekbones rise like the Andes on her now-beardless face. Where Andy stood is now the beautiful Andrella, remembering what Andy does, having all of his experience, yet without a trace of masculinity remaining from her years of Boy Scouts and “man up!” lessons and testosterone. She returns home as fresh as a brand new Barbie doll, complete with passport, wardrobe, and romcom movie deal about a plucky “new girl next door” in search of her Prince Charming.

For trans men in this fantasy, it works exactly the same but in reverse. “Chaz” wakes up one morning, flies to Thailand, and before he’s recovered from the jet lag, everyone is calling him “Mister” and asking him to dance lead on reality TV.

In the real world (not “MTV’s The Real World”), there is no single process for a trans person. Sometimes there is no process, or else it’s not what you’d consider a “process.” Sometimes—a lot of the time—it goes at the speed of money. Sometimes this isn’t such a good thing for Andrella/Chaz, but it’s also pretty rare, unless your name is Wachowski, to have the hundreds of thousands of dollars at one’s disposal for transition related surgery expenses. And then there’s just laws of physics/biology, what you can do with the hands that go with a 6’4” person who lived under the influence of testosterone for a decade before she could get those hands wrapped around her destiny. There’s the priorities of people who might not be entirely sane, but are at least as sane as you are: they won’t get their legs broken like a tragic sci fi hero to gain six inches of height.

And there’s the limits of science, too. We can break legs, but we can’t make big, sensitive, responsive penises, or everyone would have one. At least one. Why stop there? Have one made up for daytime and one for evening wear. One to take out on weekends, and another for weekdays. One that looks good in a swimsuit, and one that your lover has custom designed to fit. A penis for every occasion.

Thanks to a decades-long sci fi habit, I’m waiting for nanotechnology rather than surgery. Imagine: a soft hiss of yeasty steam and the softly whirring magic of millions of tiny, tiny machines, building upon my own genetics to deliver the perfect penis that will work exactly as Nature would have made for me, had she gotten slightly different assembly instructions. Until such time as a gray goo squirted from a tube and applied to my nether bits delivers, I’m living with imperfection, but when it does,  I’ll probably overdo it, ignore the warning on the label, fail to apply it to an unobtrusive test area first. It’ll give me rock hard abs, remove all my back hair, make me a super genius and perk up my sagging butt, while also giving me an incurable computer virus. Because it’s still science fiction and without conflict, it’s just science lies.

So how does it usually work?

There are steps that trans people often take. Here are a few changes that will generally happen sooner rather than later.

Column A: Sometimes a trans person does one or more of these things, in some order and possibly more than once, as part of a transition:

  • Asks friends to call them by a new name, and/or use different pronouns, etc.
  • Asks family members to do this.
  • Comes out as trans at work, in church, to their school friends but not their work friends or vice versa… in other words, selectively. Over time (because it’s exhausting… how many coming out talks can you give in a day?) and to some social circles but not others, for a variety of reasons including power relations and a trans person’s own fears and prejudices.
  • Removes or grows facial hair, changes hairstyle, manicure habits, starts or stops shaving other bodily hair, or otherwise alters grooming habits in a way some might read as “gendered.”
  • Starts dressing differently, possibly in a “very gendered” way (extremely masculine or feminine), or in a way that is notably androgynous.
  • Talks to a mental health professional about feelings of gender incongruity or a desire to live in the opposite gender.

Column B: Among those changes that a trans person might make that suggest that at least some of the new has worn off the situation, these are usually only undertaken once something from Column B has been ordered and digested. As before, these may take place over the course of months or years, and as previously noted, can be seriously delayed by finances.

  • Changes their name legally.
  • Starts taking hormones or hormone blockers.
  • Starts electrolysis (for male to female transition).
  • Has medical procedures to alter appearance or secondary sex characteristics.

There are no rules for what you have done, when, in what order, or anything. There are some guidelines that suggest seeing a mental health professional before having hormones or surgery. There’s certainly no Department of Transgender.

Changing your name, legally, is a different process in each locality. It’s often a family court matter, meaning a judge will want to know why you are requesting a name change: saying “because I’m transgender” is totally fine. You might have “the letter” from your MH professional saying yes, it’s true, this person is known to me as trans, and that satisfies many people: ignorant judges, bureaucrats of all kinds, and trans people themselves, who see themselves as protected from some of the consequences of appearing trans. The government just wants you not to be a crook, which is why this part of the process often requires publishing a notice in a newspaper, and is heavy on the “promise you’re not doing this to evade debt” language. You’ll have to swear, probably. Dress for court, say “Your Honor” when addressing a judge, step through the hoops as presented, and you’ll be fine, probably. It’s the least horrible part of the process for most people.

What is a sex change surgery?

The whole realm of medical procedures is likewise not regulated by any central transgender board. Each doctor decides who they’ll treat and under what conditions, governed by their own professional ethics. Have you ever had surgery of any kind? There’s a consultation. You schedule it with the doctor and the surgery center. Someone tells you what to buy for postoperative care and to make sure you have a ride home. If you’re lucky, you’ve got someone who’ll screen your calls for rabid, angry relatives, and if you’re even luckier, you have a supportive family who brings you fruit baskets and bad movies and fill your prescriptions, just like they would if you were having any other kind of surgery.

I’ve known people who’ve gone through treatment for cancer, chemo and radiation treatments as well as surgery. At first I think it would have been a shock to me, in their positions, that the world doesn’t stop for cancer patients. What do you mean I still have to go to work? But they do, many of them. Cancer patients schedule those treatments like any other medical appointments. You might be surprised how life goes on even as you’re fighting for it. It’s the same for us. For a lot of us, I think, this is a fight for our lives, and unlike cancer treatments, the expenses are usually not covered by health insurance.

The actual procedures that are considered “sex change surgery” are various and include:

  • Tracheal shaving (for male to female transition)
  • Facial cosmetic surgery (rhinoplasty, cheekbone sculpting, jaw and brow reshaping)
  • Phalloplasty
  • Vaginoplasty
  • Double mastectomy
  • Breast implants

And while not surgery, these procedures are often performed by cosmetic surgery centers, are comparably painful and expensive, but usually need multiple treatments to achieve satisfactory results:

  • Silicone injections
  • Electrolysis or laser hair removal

Column C: I can’t think of anything that goes here. Is there some kind of super transsexual act one can undergo? If you think of one, let me know in the comments. Or maybe after you get your card stamped so many times, you earn points… but what are they redeemable for? Again, if you can think of something… I know Transadvocate has been wondering what we get for being trans. It seems some of us are getting cake.

Maybe Column C is the list of those things that a trans person does (or has done to them) that signify a certain level of completion. Because most trans people eventually:

  • Make financial plans that don’t revolve around paying for items in Columns A and B.
  • Mentee trans people who come out after them, who are just as scared and uncertain as they were themselves, back when they first considered ordering something from Column A.
  • Meet people who didn’t know them before transition.
  • Go through whole days where they don’t think about one single transgender thing.
  • Figure themselves “done with transition,” even if it’s with a caveat (such as until nanotechnology is in beta.)

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Running and Falling

SWINGHow narcissism and identity are very much like falling off a gate.

When I was eight years old I ran away from the person I loved most.

Grandma was staying with us because our parents were vacationing in Atlantic City for a week. I had a twenty dollar bill, a months’ allowance saved. Someday soon, I was going to run away to New York City. I was eight and had been planning this for months. It wouldn’t be the first time I left home—or last—but it didn’t happen the way I’d been planning, this time. I didn’t mean to run away from her.

But somewhere during the week, Grandma got confused about how much cash she’d spent, and called me into my room to ask me if I’d taken the $20 bill from her purse. She was sitting on my bed, her purse on her lap. When I denied it, she asked me again, repeating the question until I snapped and ran from her. I ran out of the house, and for blocks, until my lungs felt like they were on fire and my legs would fly out from under me.

I’d run off without any money in my pockets. This wasn’t the way I’d planned it, but since I couldn’t go back, I continued in the direction of the city. I walked, for hours, until after nightfall and I was lost. I found a shopping center and called my uncle who took me home to his house for the night. Not much was said before he returned me to my parents, who were due home that morning.

♦◊♦

This story is coming out again for me in therapy, making me think, making me distant. I spend long hours cleaning up digital poop in “Zoo Tycoon 2” to distract me. I work on telling this story, and answering to my own satisfaction, why it is coming up for me now.

The public breakdown of Hugo Schwyzer has made me think about how public to make my own mental health related suffering. The internet is a public space—even our email is read. I believe that we as citizens of an online community have to have ways of creating accountability. I pride myself on being out: sharing our stories is celebratory, healing, connective. Even before the internet made it so easy to share, I always intended to tell my own story: always, since I learned to write. But not just for others. I need to understand my own story. And so I write it. And then I edit. I revise, reframe for other audiences.

Being mentally ill has a way of erasing credibility and expertise in some people’s eyes. It’s as if everything is a lie, nothing can be trusted, there is no real “self” to know. I worry that there are too many facets for me to know, more than normal people. There’s aspiring, and then there’s believing in your own branding.

The reaction to Hugo online, among people who know him slightly or not at all, also reminded me of how I usually deal with his kind of madness, which is to run away from it. Narcissistic personalities are particularly beguiling, at first. I’ve fallen for a few. But these vain and greedy souls take their energy from people like me, who watch from a safe distance, and much more from people who step directly into their energy fields, or respond to their flirtations. Narcissists must be at the center of attention, this being the only way they can handle the deep conflict they generate.

Charming, intelligent people who can surf the waves seem deep and balanced, but they are more like skimming stones, leaping to avoid sinking. They don’t know quite who they are, and with this, I sympathize. I compare their self image to my physical sense of self. It took me a long time, well into adulthood, to develop enough proprioception that roller coasters made me feel sick instead of pleasantly dizzy. Narcissists only know they exist because of their effects on others, and the way you rock a baby to teach its inner ears balance, they must constantly rock the boat to roil others, to know who they are in the world. The high school drama that most of us outgrow, remains necessary to them.

I take people like Hugo to heart, because we both suffer from our mental illnesses. The breakdowns, the relapses, the suicides: every one is a cautionary tale for me. There was reporting last week of a young man who had struggled with an eating disorder and anxiety, even posted an encouraging recovery video on ED. I wonder what it means to succumb: when all of that takes you. I want to know the details, to not only avoid these fates but to feel safe. Falling can feel that safe. It has for me every time I’ve experienced the sensation of being near death. One time I was hit in traffic on my bicycle, and another time, long ago, I was thrown from a swinging gate. Each time I found myself flying through the air, the hard ground coming fast toward my head, and there was nothing to be done about it. Time stretched, allowing time for panic to dissolve, regret to flicker, for a clear image of the end. There was no sound, only full, long nanoseconds of understanding.

The fact that Hugo has landed back at his parents’ house is, to me, a personal nightmare. I have a history of running away. Part of me still doesn’t forgive me for turning back, the time I ran away from my grandmother when I was eight years old.

The story that my husband likes for me to tell people about her is the one where she doors a guy in an Astoria mall for stealing a parking space. My grandma Cascio was a lover and a fighter. But she was so much more, and most of what she was, I’ll never know, because I was her grandchild: blood and generations cleaved us. The most important thing to know about her was that she always made me feel like I was her favorite: special, protected.

♦◊♦

After my uncle brought me home to my parents, I was broken down. I don’t even remember their reaction when they came home from their trip, anything they said to me. I remember that for months, it felt like, I could not look my grandmother in the eye. I acted like I was angry at her, and I was—for not trusting me, for thinking me a thief. But mostly I was hurt too much for her apology to work. I could not apologize for running away. How could she have believed that I would steal from her? Didn’t she know how much I loved her? For me, it wasn’t a lie: I loved her more than anyone else in our family.

Immediately after my grandmother died, I began my transition from female to male. People who I thought knew me well were stunned and disbelieving when I transitioned, while others shocked me by having seen what I thought was so well hidden, and took my coming out to them in stride. I was humbled, repeatedly. There was so much I didn’t know about the people I thought I knew so well. I like to think my grandmother would have accepted me as her grandson, if she had lived to see me. And yet the timing is undeniable.

Image courtesy of the author’s grandmother, may her memory be a blessing

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“Fake It ‘Til You Make It” Isn’t “Faking It” at All

Agrado, All About My Mother, Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Pedro Almodovar, authenticityAuthenticity is aspirational, heroic, and expensive.

Last Monday, I joined Bobby Umar’s leadership discussion, The Power of Connection Chat, on Twitter, for a conversation on authenticity. In answer to Umar’s question, “What is authenticity?” there was a wide range of response:

Too wide, really. Is authenticity really about selfishness, listening skills, or work ethic? What about being true to others as well as yourself? I’d say, “probably not.” But is this really the case—that “faking it til you make it” is inauthentic?


In Pedro Almodovar’s “Todo Sobre Mi Madre,” (“All About My Mother”) Agrado, a trans woman and sex worker, entertains a crowd of theater goers with a story of authenticity and transformation. She points to one body part after another, names the feminizing medical procedure performed and its cost. Most expenses are given in dollars, but the other prices she has paid are made clear. “It costs a lot to be truly authentic,” says Agrado, in the conclusion of her speech. “And one can’t be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being.”

Further complicating the question of “What is authentic?” is that we are authentically complex. We are quantum, wave forms of consciousness and particles of identity. If you try to pin us down with labels, we defy them with our individuality. Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself,” “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself; I am large—I contain multitudes.”

While we are largely a product of our environments and genetics, forces beyond our control, we also have at least the illusion of will and self-determination: we have drives beyond survival, to become something more than we are. Which are you, your values or the raw materials? Aren’t we both?

Agrado’s description of authenticity contains within it an argument for its selfishness. To prioritize resembling our dreams for ourselves is expensive, and as the story of “Todo Sobre Mi Madre” makes clear, it takes years or whole lifetimes to achieve. To devote most of one’s lifetime and resources to achieving a dream of self-actualization is either heroic or very selfish, and likely, both.

How do you express your authentic self?

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