Sunday, April 3, 2011

In My Mind

You know the song by James Taylor beloved by all University of North Carolina alum. In my mind, I thought this day would never come. I graduated from UNC in 1994 and soon after left for Charlotte to work. I received a piece of paper saying I had graduated with a BA in something, but I felt like there was still some unfinished business. By the time I started going out en femme in 1998, my old life in Chapel Hill seemed like the opening to Star Wars... a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. Yesterday, I returned as the real me and found I still belonged.

When I was a student at UNC, my belief system was much more rigid and unforgiving not to mention extremely conservative. This was my time in a fairly fundamentalist church which viewed gays (and really most of the world) as perverted and sinful. I was only beginning to explore my gender identity which I knew would be completely incompatible with the church. When I was discovered, I felt like it would be the end of everything I knew. In a sense, I was right I was very much wrapped up in the church to the point that my whole life revolved around it. Being separated was one of the best things that could have happened even though I didn't recognize it at the time. I started my life almost from scratch in my final year at UNC and realized there was hope away from the prison that the church had created.

The return all happened as the result of a friendship at the Carrboro dances. Rebecca, like so many in the dance community, has been a strong support to me and a good dancer too. I knew she was involved in LGBT causes at UNC and was on the leadership team for the annual Southeast Regional Unity Conference, a conference that draws from all over the south. I had offered to do Transgender Adventures in History in 2010, but we weren't able to fit it in. This year, under a re-branded name, Gender Pioneers, Rebecca felt it would be a good addition to the conference.

Driving in to Chapel Hill and crossing the James Taylor Bridge, I caught a glimpse of the Bell Tower. That's when it hit me that this was really going to happen. Like anyone returning to their old stomping grounds, I noted familiar sites and changes comparing them to my years on campus. I had been back a few times in male mode for other work projects, but this was special. I found my way to a new parking deck and finally the student union. Poor Rebecca must have thought I had never been there because the interior had been renovated a few times in the interim years.

I have made a habit when doing my history presentation of dressing fairly plain jane (Carolina blue sweater top and blue jeans on this day) before changing into my period dress. This makes the transformation even more dramatic for me. I wrote one of my reenacting friends the night before how putting on the dress does more than change my outward appearance. It affects my mind, body, and soul and takes me to a different place and time. It is such a drastic change from present day clothing particular for women. Rebecca was visibly impressed when I stepped out of the dressing room. It was also nice to receive compliments while walking to the meeting room. You would have thought women had not dressed that way in about 150 years!

The actual presentation went pretty smooth. I wasn't sure how I would feel during it, but it was all pretty normal. I had the largest crowd ever for my transgender history workshop, and I was honored to give it before this audience. I realized this group of students is well ahead of where I was at their ages. They are already figuring it out, living their lives, and making positive change for themselves and others. A big thank you goes to Rebecca and Kelly, another of my dancing friends, for being there. It was nice to talk to the students afterward and get many new ideas. The education continues for me which makes future presentations better.

I hate returning to modern clothes, but at least I had a dance to go to in Carrboro. So that made three outfits for the day! The dance was crowded, hot, loud, and fantastic. It was a perfect ending to a fun day. The dance reminded how far I've come as I hugged, talked, laughed, and danced with friends old and new. A few know what I have told them about my past life. Like the Star Wars opening, it is almost like that time was part of a movie or in another universe. However, it also a huge influence on my desire to be true to myself. I made a decision around the time I came out that I would never let another group make that choice for me. My identity is for me to determine. The friends I have now are even better because they are attracted to the real me, not some character. We appreciate and celebrate each other for who we are.

No longer is my return to Carolina in my mind. It is another item removed from the darkness of the closet and seeing the light of day. UNC still draws me with its southern charm, some good basketball, a beautiful campus, and a growing LGBT community that is light years beyond what I could have imagined on my graduation day in 1994. There is still a place for me in the southern part of heaven, and I hope to return often.