It’s not my birthday…

Well the rain falls down without my help I’m afraid
And my lawn gets wet though I’ve withheld my consent
When this grey world crumbles like a cake
I’ll be hanging from the hope
That I’ll never see that recipe again

It’s not my birthday, it’s not today…

– They Might Be Giants, “It’s Not My Birthday”-

There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.

-Louis L’Amour-

No, dear readers, it is NOT my birthday today. That cherished occasion lies nine months in the future. Today is auspicious, however, for at least two reasons:

A) Today was the last day of my IT career. I’ve left behind Very Large Corporation, Inc, and Information Technology alike in order to take up my bindle stick, pluck up my courage, and hop aboard a train bound for Creative Enterprise.

and

B) Today is my “rebirthday.” Exactly 2 years ago today, I received the precious blessing of the state court and changed my legal identity to match my actual one. I may be only two years old, but I’m advanced for my age.

It’s been a busy day, is the point.

I’ve been struggling for years to return to creative work, the victim of an odd (and, at times, cruel-seeming) paradox; despite having zero formal IT training or education, possessing what can only be described as mid-level technopathy led to the assumption that I was and would forever be a “techie,” despite both my frequent side projects in the creative arts and my own hearty protestations to the contrary. Eventually, the time I’d spent in IT (which was, naturally, time away from design and other creative fields, at least according to my resume) reinforced this idea; “Claire must be meant for IT because Claire’s in IT and Claire’s in IT because Claire’s meant to be there.”

Not pretty.

But, the wheel of life spins under our feet regardless of our forward motion, and eventually I was able to – through a series of contacts, design projects and a stubbornness so profound that mules roll their eyes at me –  procure my new position in Marketing and Social Media. My excitement is so profound that I’m pretty sure I’ve been levitating most of the day, which sounds fun until you stop at the grocery and can’t activate the little pressure-plate door opener thing.

But I digress.

As I was packing up my few remaining possessions and saying my goodbyes, I realized how deeply IT has affected me, both as a person and an employee. Yes, there have been challenges to my patience at times – ID-10T errors and PEBKAC abound – but for the most part, even the most grievous frustrations were ameliorated by that magic moment, that singular instant, when I solved someone’s problem. Money has never been a particularly strong motivator for me; my inability to manage it, coupled with the sort of disregard for material gain most people associate with terminal illness or religious mania makes it a poor carrot with which to lead me down the primrose path. However, put me in a place where I am genuinely and consistently helpful to someone, exorcising not just the demons from their Excel macros but the shadows from their workday, and I am a happy camper (provided, of course, that there is gratitude for services rendered…ingrates turn the knob of my Smitemaster 3000 to “11” ).

This has not been an ideal job – what job is, in the final analysis? – but it HAS been a useful one. It’s taught me many things about myself, and the kind of work, environment and interactions I require to feel as though I’m making a positive impact every day. It’s introduced me to some great friends, taught me that trust needs to be earned (not just given away like novelty tokens at a particularly cruddy fundraising carnival), and, perhaps most importantly of all, helped me to understand all the things I’m NOT as well as those I am.

And for that, I will be forever grateful.

It’s been a day of lasts – last login, last cup of tea, last casual sweep of Ice Station Zebra, last hugs and tears and laughs.There will be letters to write, e-mails to exchange, lunches to coordinate; there will be attrition as bodies both peripheral and central in my personal galaxy move closer or break orbit and disappear into space beyond.

But it’s also a day for beginnings. Here I stand, two years as Claire behind me, with (let us hope) many more ahead. The sun has not yet reached its apex; the future stretches before me, a road traveling through sunny heights and icy, shadowed lows. Having reached a fork, I’ve chosen what I hope is the right one, and focus my gaze on the horizon.

No, it’s not my birthday, my friends. But somehow, I still feel as though I’ve been given a gift.


I’m Not Just A Member, I’m Also The President

So here’s the thing, kids.

I have, over the years of scratching a path into the dirt on this blue rock,  organized a series of book clubs. They have all come to untimely ends, and I’d like to say it was because schedules got in the way, or the selections were terrible, or I have a bad habit of  pontificating at length about some bit of literary minutia fascinating to me but of incomprehensible and tedious mystery to the rest of the group, but that’s just not the case (except maybe that last one, but come on, it’s ME, people).

No, the reason my book clubs fail is this: I put the cart before the horse.

When I start a book club, I have this vision that we’ll be tucked into cozy chairs somewhere, sipping port, eating fine cheese and water crackers while we discuss the latest selection.  I imagine a roaring fire (or a summer breeze, as the season merits), witty repartee, insightful commentary. I picture a group of like-minded intellectuals mining a book for its treasures, our picks biting deep, unearthing shining bits of truth and wisdom and hilarity.

Now, I know that this sort of thing can smack of elitism, that it can be intimidating or off-putting simply because intellectually rigorous pastimes have become work rather than fun in this country. I know that it can, in the wrong hands, become The Finer Things Club.

And you know what? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I LIKE reading. No, I LOVE it.  I love every part of the process – the smell of the paper, the warm solidity of the book in the hand, the ability of a truly well-written story to swallow me up like Jonah’s great fish and spit me out onto the shores of reality hours later, weary but wiser for the experience.

But that’s only half the reading experience – I also enjoy the vivisection of the patient. I like to peep behind the curtain and look at the gears and cogs that make everything dance so prettily. Are the characters fresh, or archetypes we’ve seen before? If they are old friends in new clothing, how has the author made them important to us in this context? What about plot? Dialogue choice? Content, both obscure and familiar? What about thematic and allegorical subtext? Where is the book within the cultural framework on which it rests?

These are the questions that consume me when I read.

Ah, but my members are a different story.

My most recent book club, The Super Fun Book Club of Fun-ness™, fell victim to what I call “Life Intrudes” syndrome. At the time of its death earlier this year, the club was four years old. It consisted entirely of friends from work, and the idea was that we’d meet every six weeks for lunch to discuss a book selected by vote.

By the end, it had devolved considerably. Hardly anyone read the book, and I had to be “Mean Mommy,” breaking up chatter about work, the latest peccadilloes of the Hollywood elite, and television in order to bring the group back to the topic at hand.

I let the club die a silent death this year. Nobody protested. In fact, only one member even asked what had happened to it (my friend Mona, who always read the book and contributed regularly to discussion).

To be fair, my friends are busy women. They have families to raise, other interests to pursue, and limited time in which to accomplish their goals – in short, women who are too busy for a book club, or at least too busy to make the time for one. To measure their wheat by my bushel is not only arrogant but wrong-headed, and so releasing them from the guilt of a “fun” club that they didn’t have room for was my only option.

Which brings us to today. I’ve decided that, rather than gather up my friends and build a book club around them, I am building my club and saying “This is what is expected when you join this club.”  I am building a cart and saying, “all right, which of you lot wants to schlep this thing round the track with me?”

To wit:

I’ve christened this new club “Bibliovore’s Delight.” We meet every six weeks on Saturdays. Membership is open to anyone who agrees to follow the rules of the club, which are as follows:

1) You read the book. The whole thing. Yes, even if Survivor is on and Leroy is trying to steal immunity from Corncob by forming an alliance with Skeeter. If you haven’t read it, don’t bother to show up – or, if you do show up, prepare to have the ending spoiled for you.

2) You digest the book and produce a few germane comments for sharing. You needn’t bring a thesis (even I don’t want to hear “Harry Potter As Christ: Redemption for Muggle and Mage“), but take note of things that caught your fancy (what did you like? What did you hate? Who was your favorite character, and why?).

3) You have an opinion and don’t mind sharing it (or defending it). Literary endeavor is not for sissies. You want to go toe-to-toe over Heathcliff’s sexuality? Want to engage on the morality of George’s choice to kill Lenny? Let the discussion begin! Naturally, civility will be our watchword, but spirited discussion is most welcome indeed.

[By the by, I was referring to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but if you’ve got some sort of dirt on the ersatz Garfield of the same name, we can discuss that, too.]

4) You believe in active, on-topic participation. There will most likely be theme parties for the books we read. I might have a screening of the movie version for comparative discussion. Members may have supplemental material they’d like us to read and then add to the discussion. The point is, this is a club about thoroughly digesting and enjoying books. Wallflowers can stay home.

As this is a club that is democratic in operation but autocratic in administration, I will choose our first book. We’ll be reading Dashiell Hammett’s excellent final novel, The Thin Man (available here, among other places).

The first meeting will be Saturday, August 15th, 2009 (location TBD) at 6 PM.

Those of you in the Dayton area are welcome to join me physically for the meeting (we’ll most likely have dinner and drinks before/during/after as necessary).

For those of you too distant to join us, I’m on MSN (Claire.M.Jackson@hotmail.com) and will be happy to friend you!

We’ll be doing a live video chat of the meeting via Windows Live Messenger from my laptop, so our more remote members can chime in!

I’ve set up a club site over at Book Movement...e-mail me for details!

If you’re a serious reader who’s looking for serious book-related fun, I hope you’ll join me as I launch Bibliovore’s Delight.

Happy Reading!

CDL Blogoversary, Day One: What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding Transgenderism?

Today is Claire De Lunacy’s First Blogoversary. To celebrate, I’ve invited some very gracious and awesome friends to contribute to this mess, sharing their words with you, my beloved readers. Over the next week, there will be a new post from a different guest each day, culminating with a new, full-length short story by yours truly. I hope you enjoy my guests’ work as much as I do, and I hope you’ll stick around to see what happens during the NEXT year.
[Today’s Guest Blog is by my friend Sra, a very dear “friend once removed.” When she’s not sharing her adventures and insights at her own, also awesome blog, Bunsnip, she can be found preparing for the big move from Utah to Portland, Oregon for law school.]

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding Transgenderism?

Hello, everyone, my name is Sra and I write the drivel over at Bunsnip.com. I’m a real life friend of one of Claire’s real life friends, which means Claire and I are real life friends once removed, or just virtual friends, if you like. Claire is one of the funniest, most intelligent, and most bizarre people I’ve ever virtually met. Whenever she writes a comment on my blog, I’m left either laughing my ass off, or scratching my head because I don’t understand the obscure references she is able to pull out of her ass… er… I mean… her exceedingly knowledgeable brain… on any topic imaginable, but I’m sure these references would only make her comments all the more funny if understood. With this, her one year blogiversary of making people laugh and scratch their heads, Claire deserves to sit back, kick up her feet, and let other people do all the work for her for once. I’m only happy to oblige.

I’ve decided to write a little bit about transgenderism, since this seems a nice venue to do so. I am very interested in the topics of sexuality and gender, and if you’ve read Claire’s Transgender Primer for the Curious, Apprehensive, or Confused, you know that sexuality and gender are not the same thing. For instance, I was ok with “the gay”, as Claire likes to say, well before I understood and accepted transgenderism.

I don’t remember exactly when I became ok with homosexuality, but I know it was sometime before high school. Of course, as a young child it didn’t occur to me that there could be some moral difference between having romantic feelings for a person of one gender versus another. This attitude that one type of sexual attraction is ok while another is verboten is socialized into us. Sometime around maybe 4th or 5th grade, when kids are becoming more cognizant of their sexuality, I became aware of the fact that people recognize straight versus gay, and that straight is perceived as normal, while anything else is considered aberrant.

When I was a tween and young teenager, it was a regular part of slang to call things “gay” to mean “stupid”, and I partook of this slang like everyone else. Then sometime in high school, well after I had decided that homosexuality was a perfectly viable and completely amoral way of life, a friend of mine pointed out that using the word “gay” to mean “stupid” sent a message that I was actually much less accepting of homosexuality than I claimed. For some reason, I needed a little convincing (looking back now, I can’t remember how I might have rationalized my use of that slang), but I finally came to understand her reasoning and made the effort to change my slang usage.

And doing so made me realize that I may not have been as accepting as I had thought. It was then that it also occurred to me that, while I understood homosexuality, I didn’t understand transgenderism at all. And again, looking back now, it’s hard for me to revert to that state of mind in which I just don’t get it. I mean, if it’s perfectly natural to think that one could be attracted to someone regardless of sex, notwithstanding the accepted norm, it also seems perfectly natural that one could personally identify as either gender, notwithstanding the body into which one was born. But back then, I didn’t understand. I felt like if I was going to become the accepting person that I wanted to be, I really needed to figure transgenderism out.

~~ Let me make a little aside here. Some people errantly believe that when you’re talking about accepting homosexuality and transgenderism, then naturally you must also be willing to accept pedophilia, bestiality, polyamory, and, hell, maybe even necrophilia; like maybe homosexuality and transgenderism are gateway drugs to throwing all limits out the window, sexually speaking. This is a non sequitur, of course. (As an aside to the aside, with the exception of pedophilia, which I do find appallingly immoral, I am not making any judgment as to the morality of those other -alities, -amories, and -philias. Some of them might be a little stomach churning, however.) ~~

At about this same time, Hillary Swank played the role of a female-to-male transgendered person in the movie Boys Don’t Cry, which is based on the true story of Brandon Teena, born Teena Brandon, who is murdered when his friends discover that he was born female. I happened to come across the movie on TV one night, and found it very humanizing of transgenderism. It’s a story of love; it’s a story of hate. In short, it’s a story of the human condition. The film helped me see transgendered people as, well, just that, people. Really, that’s all it took for me to find acceptance of transgenderism, and understanding came with time.

In college, I learned that one of my family members identifies as transgendered, and I felt very fortunate that by this time I had already taken the steps to achieve understanding and acceptance of transgenderism, and wouldn’t have to deal with the search for acceptance when what was really important was showing love and support of this person, who is, after all, still my family.

A few years later, a friend of mine who I had known as Jason back in high school met with me for lunch because he had something to tell me. He was reluctant to divulge the secret, but I think subconsciously I had figured it out, because one of my first guesses was, “You’re not getting a sex change, are you?” That’s when Jason’s voiced morphed into the much higher voice of Lauren, “Well, actually…”

I was shocked, not only because I didn’t expect Jason’s voice ever to reach that high, but because a year or so prior, I had welcomed Lauren home from her LDS mission, which she had taken as Jason. That just shows to go you that you can’t suppose someone isn’t gay or transgendered just because of their religion. As a matter of fact, Lauren still remains devout to her faith, as do, surprisingly, many gay, bisexual, and transgendered people of all kinds of faith.

The most difficult part of learning that someone you know and love is transgendered is having to play the pronoun game. Hard as you may try, you will slip up, probably many times, before the hes and shes fall out naturally in their correct place. Incidentally, I’ve heard people use “it” when referring to transgendered people, and I can’t tell you how offensive I find that. People are never “its”.

The greatest thing about learning that someone you know and love is transgendered is the way that the person finally starts to make sense. Lauren in particular was always a little bit strange to me, growing up. In high school, as Jason, she would do this thing where she’d get uncomfortable and suddenly lower her voice dramatically. I always just thought she was being a goof, but now it suddenly makes sense. She had struggled with her gender identity her entire life, and tried hard to convince herself that she was a boy when inside she always felt like a girl. When she felt she was failing at being a convincing boy, she’d lower her voice nervously, or do something stereotypically male, trying to cover up. Learning that my friend was always the right person in the wrong body made everything about her click to me.

Claire makes the third transgendered person I know in my life. I’m counting her on account of our real life friends once removed status. The point here isn’t that I’m keeping score on my diversity of friendship score card, but that I am a 26 year old woman from Salt Lake City, Utah, and I know three transgendered people, which means there is probably someone in your life who is transgendered as well. This is why it’s important to come to understand transgenderism, and homosexuality, and bisexuality, as perfectly valid ways of identifying, because someone you know and care about will probably identify as one or more of these things. I think in life we all just want to be accepted and understood for who we are. I think if we try to accept and understand other people, without caveats and conditions, we will in turn find it easier to be understood and accepted ourselves. Easier said than done, especially for a grouchy non-people-person such as myself, but I work on it, and so should we all.

[It’s me again. Isn’t she great? Please be sure to pay her a visit at her blog, and tune in tomorrow for another great post dealing with Adam Lambert’s failure to become The Fairest of Them All, and what it means in today’s society.]

Guestastic!

Faithful Readers:

Later this week, Claire De Lunacy will be celebrating its first blogiversary.  It’s been an interesting year, full of adventures with the courts and virtual attempts to bike to Mormon-filled deserts.  I’ve changed, the world has changed, and so have all of you (except for this guy).

To celebrate my first blogiversary, I’ll be featuring a week of guest posts starting Wednesday next (June 3rd) and concluding on the following Wednesday (June 10th). I’ve got a couple pieces of short fiction, some commentary, and more!

Plus, to commemmorate this (ahem) momentous occasion, I’ll be publishing a FULL-LENGTH short story from the Circe universe on the last day, June 10th.

Each day, I’ll briefly introduce each guest author and then let their words flow. As always, commentary from the readers is both welcome and encouraged.

I hope you’ll join us for the week’s festivities!

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

A story for you, my beloved readers, on Valentine’s Day:

The time: Just after last bell on a chilly Valentine’s Day in 1983

The place: Cookson Elementary School.

The shame: Enormous

I am in second grade. The girl who is sweet on me (a girl we shall call Myrtle) is in third grade. We’ve known each other since daycare, and while Myrtle is great, I’ve got bigger things to worry about, not the least of which is why everybody seems to think I’m a boy. Lately, Myrtle’s been making what I will later recognize as flirty gestures, and I am confused by the shift in her behavior. However, since Myrtle also does things like eat orange peels and call me “Potato,” I chalk this up to Myrtle-centric oddness and not some sort of burgeoning romance. Consequently, I am totally surprised when, in front of everyone at the bus stop, Myrtle walks up and presents unto me a heart-shaped cookie – a cookie she has, naturally, baked and decorated herself. It is large and heavy in my hand. As she hands it to me, eyes wide with hope and excitement, she says “Happy Valentine’s Day” and then stands there, looking at me expectantly.

The world goes silent. Looking down, I see the afternoon sun glittering off the red sparkles that cover the cookie. I can smell the sugary crispness, feel the gritty abrasiveness of the colored sugar. And then, overcome with feelings I don’t want to think about, let alone process, I look around, see my friends giggling, and before I know what I’m doing, I raise the cookie high above my head like one of the apes from 2001: A Space Odyssey with a Valentine jawbone and smash it to the pavement at our feet. Then, without a word, I stomp the chunks into dust, grinding my heel before turning and running away to my parents’ car, trying to ignore Myrtle’s sobs receding into the distance.

Years later, I still occasionally talk to Myrtle, and she still occasionally asks me to dinner or dancing. I’ve moved on from smashing confections into glittering dust, but I always decline. And because I’ve never been able to bring myself to apologize, or to acknowledge that first act of rejection, I am a woman cursed to be alone on Valentine’s Day (even when I’ve been in a relationship, I’ve been alone on this day). Myrtle’s shadow hangs over me every year, a pint-sized phantom whose offering I cannot accept. Perhaps, in rejecting her schoolgirl affection, I was rejecting love itself, having decided even then that I was too different, too strange, too broken to deserve love.

Or maybe I was just in second grade, and embarrassed by such an open display of affection in a cootie-sensitive climate, and I should find a way to forgive myself for something that happened over twenty years ago in the dark ages of my childhood. Maybe it’s not a curse, but a reminder that hearts are fragile, and that people who mishandle them end up without a treat to share. Maybe, if I’m lucky, someone will offer me their heart with that kind of open honesty again one day, and I will be strong enough to take it.

Maybe I’ll even break off a piece of my own to share.

Dear Future Partner

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.”

(door opening, hurried footsteps)

“What the hell are you doing here? You’re in the wrong place, kid.”

“What? This isn’t Judy Blume’s brain, circa 1969?”

“NO! It’s Claire’s brain, circa 2008, you nutty little freak. Now get out of here! And take Ramona with you! The grownups are talking! Crazy ass kids, always running around in here. Some of us are trying to WORK!”

Ahem.

Dear Future Partner,

Hi, it’s Claire. If the the exchange you just witnessed above made you question my sanity or pull a number of pamphlets from your satchel, then you are excused. If it made you laugh or, at a minimum, shrug and say “Well, at least she’s not trying to make me eat Peeps,” you may stay. If Margaret immediately opened the door to your own brain and asked if this was the room where she learned about the flower of womanhood, then you may come sit by me.

It’s often been said that one shouldn’t have a “type,” and that creating a list of criteria for one’s perfect mate can actually prevent you from finding true love because what one wants is so rarely what one needs.

This is, of course, crap.

OK, not really. There is some sense to this – after all, if you’ve reached the point where you look at another person and say “Oh, jeez, I’m sorry, we can’t date – I’m not really into women with your shade of hair. You’re russet, and I’m really looking for more of an auburn. Also, you don’t have the Pirate Memory Game I’m looking for,” then it’s time to hang up your dating hat and reconcile yourself to being the Paranthropus Robustus of your family tree.

However, future mate, just like anything I attempt to reheat in the oven, I’ve been burned before – and there are some important facts I would like to share with you, here and now, so that in the future, when one of my myriad eccentricities manifests itself like the ghost of Jacob Marley, you’re prepared, and not phoning the authorities/raising a crucifix/alerting the citizens of Tokyo to my presence.

To wit:

1) You should be interested in learning. You needn’t be a super-nerd like me, nor must your internal fires burn with an insatiable lust for knowledge second only to Pryrates. If, however, upon hearing me and/or my friends discuss some bit of linguistic minutiae, some fascinating tidbit of literature or history, or last night’s episode of Jeopardy!, your immediate reaction is to roll your eyes and say “Um, we’re not in school, professor!” before turning back to your People Magazine crossword ( “24 across: TV horse “Mister __””), you will be driven way out in the country and left on a farm where you will have lots of room to frolic and watch reruns of A Current Affair .

2) I am sure that, given time, I really CAN come to love your children as if they are my very own. However, ten seconds after I meet you is a bit soon for this sort of special bond to form. Because I’m an unknown adult, I feel as though it’s not my place to yell at them for drinking bleach/smashing my belongings with a sledgehammer that they must’ve brought from home because I certainly don’t have one/tearing pages from my books (which are, it must be said, MY children) like feral goats. Furthermore, I’m not their Mom – I’m just some lady who keeps making suggestive comments to their mom while she laughs, says things like “little pitchers!” and turns red while slapping her hands over their ears. I don’t hate kids, I don’t have any illusions about my role in their life unless things get sufficiently serious, and I don’t worry about “competing” with them – but, shockingly, I would prefer to get to know YOU before being introduced to your kids and hearing the Brady Bunch theme music as we’re all tossed around in blue squares with your maid and Robert Reed.

3) If I accidentally call you Robin, it is an honest mistake. However, referring to me as Rosie, accidentally or not, will result in a Mortal Kombat-style fatality:

You: “Rosie, honey, can you…”

Announcer guy: “FINISH HER!”

Me: “GET OVER HERE!” (followed by launch of weird spear thingy)

You: “BLERG!” (thump)

Alternatively, you may receive the silent treatment and/or wake to find I have hired a plastic surgeon to bring you into line with Robin while you slumbered. So, you know, look out for that, then.

4) Birthdays are not optional. Even if you’re “not from a birthday family,” be prepared to experience a celebration of your birthday normally reserved for royalty and the ungrateful offspring of the privileged elite.

Seriously, lady, you’re gonna think Ed McMahon stopped by. Well, I mean, the old Ed McMahon, with the Publisher’s Clearinghouse checks, not really old Ed McMahon, with the neckbrace and crippling debt. You will expect to see yourself on the Society Page! Assuming wherever we live has a paper large and pretentious enough to support such a thing!

Naturally, my own birthday week should be written in your calendar in PERMANENT marker and, if desired, sparkly pen. The kind with a feathery tuft where the cap would rest on a non-super-gay pen.

5) When I hear “PDA,” I think of my Blackberry™. Yes, I love you, Future Partner! Truly, I wish to declare it from the tops of the highest trees…I want to shout it to the deepest caverns of earth’s stony heart! However, I do NOT wish to have an amateur appendectomy performed by your experimental tongue-probe method in front of A) my family, B) strangers at the mall, C) that weird neighbor guy who suddenly became all friendly when he found out I was a lesbian and forced me to get blinds for the bedroom. Seriously, I’m not Prudence McPrude, mayoress of Prudeytown – I just know how grossed out I am by other “get a room” couples, and my hypocrisy only extends so far.

6) I am a tGirl, and the “t” is not silent. OK, it should be noted that, while I don’t exactly wear a t-shirt (get it? T-shirt? HA! Oh, God, I should be killed.) proclaiming my transsexuality, it is a part of who I am, and I have no intention of hiding that part (insert rim shot here). Falling squarely into the “Activist-Lite” category, I am active in the trans community, and anyone I’m with should be cool with that, if only because I’d hate to be at Pride, stuck outside one of those unbelievably snobbish “Natal Women Only” events, holding our ciders while you listen to “Robyn WomynRayn” do a poetry slam.

7) Come to think of it, the “girl” isn’t silent, either. Despite my little case of Harry Benjamin Syndrome, I am in fact a girl through and through. Well, a woman, really, since I heard “Miss” for about a week after I began transition and then settled into “Ma’am” with blithe acceptance. No, my house isn’t pink and covered in doilies, nor do I dress like Miss Yvonne from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, but I am a femme, for better or worse. It can be difficult to separate stereotype from reality, and even more difficult to separate the concepts of “feminine” and “female,” but let it be said that I am most certainly the former and will (barring acts of the Almighty or Congress) also be the latter as soon as possible. The reason I bring this up is that, as mentioned in my Transgender Primer, I am not a f*ing drag queen, and I am most certainly not a guy in a dress (or any other kind of guy, really).

8 ) I’m not what you call a “serious” person, a fact that has been underscored abundantly within the past two sentences if not the past 33 years. Like a lot of kids whose differences forced them to choose between being the entertainment or the main course, I donned humor and my own cavalier disregard for authority as my sword and shield. Don’t worry, there’s a nougaty center of considered and rational sincerity under the brightly-colored candy shell, but you’re gonna need something sharp to get at it, sister.

I think that’s it for the moment. It’s strange to think you’re reading this now, even though we don’t get together until later, around chapter seveteen (after the incident involving the Van Allen belt, but before we kill the giant badger with silly string and a Sharpie®). Write back soon, okay? But don’t tell me what happens in Transformers 2, because I’d hate to have its tightly-written and no-doubt Joycian plot unraveled for me prematurely.

Also, if Michael Bay ever, ever, EVER wins an Oscar, just go ahead and send a nuke back with the letter. I’ll see that it gets where it needs to go.

Your future wife/partner/ball-and-chain-but-don’t-call-me-that-where-I-can-hear-you-I’m-not-kidding,

Claire

It costs a buck-o-five…

…and it’s worth every penny.

So here’s the thing:

Our nation celebrated its birthday this weekend, and as we all fired up the grills and broke out the fireworks we either have the God-given right to enjoy (Utah) or smuggled in from Indiana under the cover of night’s shielding wing (Ohio), I paused to reflect on Independence, and what it means to me.

And then I realized I’m not in eighth grade and trying to write an essay that will surely win me a Super Nintendo from the local paper, and stopped reflecting on What Independence Means To Me (working title).

Instead, I opted to think about freedom, which of course isn’t free, and what I love about living in our amazing, if troubled, land. And so, I present to you, dear readers, Claire’s List of Reasons to Love America (Even If It Sometimes Does Things That Confuse And/Or Scare You, Like Your Uncle Who Always Wants “Special Hugs”) (again, working title)

1) Want to learn something? You got it, Chester! I know that my more paranoid readers will decry the media’s stranglehold on the flow of information, and go on at length about how the government is keeping us in the dark regarding certain unspeakable truths.

This is because they need to get laid.

OK, seriously, though, while I’m sure that the government certainly has its share of canaries kept in hooded cages (hell, I live fifteen miles from the place they used to store the Roswell aliens), I also know that we are free to rattle on at length about our crackpot theories and conspiracies to our hearts’ content. Admittedly, the Patriot Act did some damage to our unbridled ability to go poking about in dark corners in our search for things like homemade explosives and/or recipes for fruitcake (a WMD if ever there was one), but here’s the thing: even if you get harrassed by the Feebs for your intellectual curiosity (malevolent or otherwise), YOU CAN STILL FIND THE INFORMATION. I recently listened to an NPR story from a roving reporter in China who attempted to look up a few bits of info on local history, and was denied. Everything is censored heavily in China, and as a result a search for Tiannamen Square or Taiwan was about as fruitful as planting a dime and waiting for the money tree to grow.

Yes, I know there are censors at some level, and for all we know, Dubya is reading this post right now (ok, having it read to him)…the point is, for now at least, America (or Amerika, for my more Hoffmanesque friends out there) is still a place where “freedom of information” is more than propaganda – as long as you’re willing to put in the effort.

2) We can have it our way. “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us…” Yeah, yeah, we’re a nation of obese go-tards, waddling our way toward ever-growing waistlines and ever-shrinking sophistication (although not as fat as some countries we could mention). But at least when we go somewhere, we can get our hamburger the way we want it. I have a friend from Japan who just blinked at me when I asked her what her favorite type of pizza was. She explained to me that, in Japan, they make it, you eat it and like it (my friend Nic has long declared his intention to open a restaurant by that very name…Redhead, head for the shores of Japan, and verily, you shall be a restaurant god, my friend). Apparently, her then-husband requested a few minor changes to his pizza order and was told “NO!” in a very firm, no-nonsense tone. There’ll be none of that in the USA, thank you very much!

(Which is not to say the Japanese don’t have a flair for pleasing the palate…what child wouldn’t love to be told “eat it and like it” by this guy?)

OK, pretty much every child, I’m guessing. Seriously, dude, get help. Or at least some pants.

Anyway, my point here is that we enjoy (or endure, depending on your perspective) a surfeit of choice in this country. Want some Pringles? We’ve got more than twenty-three varieties (May I recommend the Salt-n-Vinegar?). Want to paint your den, and you’ve got to have hypoallergenic paint because of your weird allergy to normal paint? Here’s a list of ten companies, just from one site (not to mention the millions of calculable permutations of color and blend within each brand!) Feel a burning desire to customize the Vespa you just bought because gas now costs so much you’d have to sell your kidney on eBay just to make it to work? By gum, buddy, customize away!

We are a country of folks long accustomed to customization, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. What could be more American than customizing everything down to the smallest detail, from the color of your iPod skin to the ringback tone on your cellphone to the very toppings on your Whopper (heavy pickle, no onion, hold the cheese, please)? Because you’re a singular, amazing and totally unique individual.

Just like everyone else.

3) We are a friendly and giving people. Even with the economy in the toilet, the average American still gives 3.1% of their pre-tax income to charity – including charities that help people worldwide, not just in our own problem-ridden backyard. Sure, we’re materialistic. Sure, we can be shameless wallowers in the shallowest end of the pop-culture cesspool. But we’re still, as a people, more likely to give you the shirt off our backs than demand you make us one on the cheap in some sweatshop. Don’t worry, I haven’t donned my rose-colored glasses; believe me, I know there are as many (if not more) selfish and douchey folks here than anywhere else on this benighted globe…but even the stiffs on the Conservative end of the political spectrum will stand up for America’s underappreciated generosity.

Having traveled in Mexico (America’s beard), Canada (America’s hat) and Europe (America’s…um…Europe),  I can attest to the breezy, instant familiarity that sets us apart from the stuffier denizens of other locales. Many people find this tendency (known as “the Scott Effect,” after every waiter I’ve ever had in a chain restaurant. “Hi, I’m Scott, and I’m gonna be taking care of you tonight. Can I start y’all off with some Appeteasers?”) to be instantly engaging and endearing, but some (particularly those from more formal cultures) find it to be disrespectful or even rude.

This is because they need to get laid.

I kid! I kid. Seriously, though, this openness, this instant willingness to look upon anyone – and everyone – as a potential pal, is what endears my country to me. When you’re calling someone you’ve never met by their first name and sharing baby pictures within ten minutes, you know you’re in the US of A (possibly Ohio, and even more possibly, talking to my dad. Once you make eye contact, you’d better be prepared to receive a Christmas card from the Jacksons, my friend, because that’s what you’re getting come December).

Even after a domestic attack of brutal savagery…even after we’ve spent eight long years fighting a war with no apparent end…even when we’re tired, or angry, or just fed up with the latest bit of governmental nonsense, we’re still a country of people willing to look at others in need, smile, and say “Hi, I’m Scott – what can I do to help, friend?”

It’s this freedom – the freedom to find and share the best of ourselves, to let our angels triumph over our apes,  that makes America a country worth loving, worth supporting, worth celebrating.

Oh, and we’ve got Robin Meade. So suck on that, Canada!

Happy Independence Day to all! And, remember friends, just like delicious marshmallow Peeps, the best part of freedom is the freedom to share it!