Sunday, July 31, 2016

first kiss

Mama Warning: Rated K for Kissing.

Me, 17, a slow bloomer. A sincere nerd, in a time before the geek inherited the Earth. An out queer, in a time before Ellen. Opportunities seemed thin on the ground. Had-I-known-then-what-I-know-now and so on. Never been kissed.

Jenn, closest friend and bad influence, thank goodness. My age but "worldly." Spent a lot of time in college dorms with older friends, and the rest of her time with me. By then she'd been thrown out by her mom and I somehow convinced my own saintly and remarkable parents to take her in temporarily. More about that another time, huh? Much more importantly to Past Hank, Jenn'd been exiled from home in part for being bisexual, making her one of maybe three women my age even theoretically approachable.

Thankfully, I'm old to have really been online in my teens. All that terrible poetry, gone. You can't even imagine. There's no sexual tension like teenage queer sexual tension.

My folks went to Mexico and left Granny to mind the four of us. (Poor Granny.)

Jenn and I always went to the library downtown, as allowed, and wound up in Old City Cemetery, down the hill, on a grave for a girl named Jenny. Comfortable, semi-hidden, and she felt a name-based kinship to the occupant. We'd been touching each other all day, as accidentally as possible. At school, sitting on the same step in a back stairway with a few other outcasts. Fingers brushing knees in class. Kept my hair shaved down to velvet then, and her hands reached to stroke it when I stood near. In the graveyard, in the October sun, leaned up against a double headstone, shoulder to shoulder. Did I kiss her then? No.

Back to the house. The third floor belonged to teenagers. One long room, like a karate studio, the length of the house. Cut into three with a pair of massive bookshelves and sheets haphazardly strung for privacy. My chunk had no windows and was papered in pictures, few over palm size, cut from magazines. May was somewhere? doing much worse things, I'm sure. She ran with a fast crowd. I was jealous.

Jenn'd done this before, and bless her for it. I was so nervous I had electricity crawling around under my skin. She asked for a backrub. I do give a pretty good backrub. She turned over and kissed me. No rush at all. One hand on the back of my neck, one on my side, on my bare skin. She bit my lip hard enough to make me whine.

We did more than night, but it's fainter and fuzzier and further away.

By the way, tonight's date went well.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

a difference that makes no difference

Post-transition, I've become largely gender indiscriminate in dating. Male and female have become a bit of a sliding scale. Moving along that line - line? curve? blur? explosion? - turns out to be remarkably simple. It's the context we place that change in, the medical barriers we put up against it, the official hoops we are required to jump through, the emotional battles we fight within ourselves about it that make the whole thing complicated. And I'm not saying it's easy - you can ask anyone who ever tried to lose weight if simple means easy - I'm just saying that it doesn't matter to me in a dating situation anymore. 

Hell, it's queer no matter who I hook up with these days. 

So, I have a date tonight. I hope I have a clean shirt.

Friday, July 29, 2016


In certain circles, Thursday is known as "the Triviaman's Friday."

Trivia is different every night, but exactly the same. I'm a carnival talker, same basic script daily but with new questions, new jokes fitted into their spots. Same warnings, I do them by rote while feeling out the crowd. I need you to take your cell phone i-phone, i-pad, smart phone, flip phone, whatever it is you use to communicate with other people, and put that in your pocket or your purse, out of sight and off the table. 

I'm completely in love with my own voice these days. This is a post-testosterone affair. I'm good on a microphone and on the rare occasion that I eat shrooms I wind up talking a lot but very calmly just to enjoy what I sound like. I may have a problem with maintaining an inside voice, but that's been a lifelong truth.

I love my job.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Ach. A typo led to one lens of my new glasses being decidedly wrong, so back they went and in another week I'll get my clear vision again. In my twenties, it would have enraged me. With any luck, I'd have left the store before I cussed a blue streak about having to wait. Past Hank loved anger, loved the power that built up behind the rage. But nobody likes Angry Hank much.

I still feel flashes of it, heat lightning, but life is so much easier when you let the little shit roll by. I may have to wait a week, but now I won't feel embarrassed to go back. Save up the gunpowder for the big stuff. Hard won wisdom, and I'm handing it out for free.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

too long between visits

There's a woman in North Carolina that I never see. There's a woman in North Carolina that is very busy and owns a house and two dogs and I wish I saw her more often. There's a woman in North Carolina that I have mostly given up on, that I doubt I'll ever give up on completely. There's a woman in North Carolina that's fucked up in just the right ways to make the ways in which I'm fucked up worth it. Come to sunny Florida, North Carolina woman. Sunny Florida misses you.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


I'm not blind, but I'm blind enough. I take off my glasses to sleep, to swim, to shower. To make out, because they smear against their nose or click against their glasses. (Hank makes passes at folks who wear glasses.) Sex, obviously, because they'd fall off anyway. I used to leave them with the bartender or a friend when I crashed into a mosh pit, and now I barely recognize myself in old show photos.

When Rick Scott laid us all off, I got a new pair before I lost my benefits. That's gone five years now, and mine have become a mass of scratches. At night, the world is full of flares and rainbows and auras and halos. Headlights blast like explosions. Driving isn't fun and probably not safe.

So I finally got an eye exam and yes, my left eye is worse than it ever was, but also: bifocals. Lord help me. I don't look forward to losing even more of my field of vision. That being said, I'll be able to see again! I pick them up today, on my way to trivia. The world, clear again!

after work, meandering

Johnny's hurt his leg somehow. This happens every so often. He's not an adept climber, and his nails never quite retract - he snags on things. I just fed him a sympathy sardine.

A Monday night, home from work and talking to the cat. "What did you do, boy?" He doesn't meow like a cat, just meeps quietly. A friend once said he sounded like Mike Tyson, so there you go.

I should work on tomorrow's trivia. I have a few ideas, but I'm not sure. I hate slogging through a mediocre round that no one enjoys. I write five rounds a day, four or five days per week. Me, the guy who never did a homework assignment in his life. Now I give daily pop quizzes for fun and profit. Strange ol' world.

Monday, July 25, 2016

good night, good morning

I used to be seconds from falling asleep at all times. I slept through high school, arms curled around my head to block the morning light, drooling and trying to stay aware enough to not miss the bell between classes. I nodded off in the car at red lights if I didn't sing along with the radio or pinch myself hard enough to leave bruises. I drifted out in staff meetings, notebooks and pens dropping from suddenly open hands - after a while, they just let me mind the office phones instead of embarrassing myself again. I napped in waiting rooms, crashed halfway through movies. Add alcohol to the mix and I developed a reputation for passing out in the strangest places - legend tells that I once crawled up on an amp next to the stage at a punk show and began happily snoring while the bass player dripped ice on my head.

The less said about public bathrooms the better.

I thought I was narcoleptic. Most of America manages to wake up in the morning and make it through to bedtime without problems. With fewer problems, anyway. More sleep, less sleep, it didn't matter. This was my fate. This was life. I got good at lucid dreaming because I taught myself to check the nearest clock when I thought I might be in a dreamstate - if the numbers stayed where they should be, I was awake and everything simply felt vaguely unreal.

In 2011, I got laid off from my state job. At the time, I was furious - all the shit I did that I could have been fired for, it was an insult to be cut loose just because Rick Scott decided that Florida didn't need health care workers or office staff. I got unemployment. I got into Community College. And I let myself sleep when I wanted to.

A whole new life. An awake life. I tumble into my covers in the early hours, as the mockingbirds begin to imitate and dawn begins to peep. As daywalkers, those fools, groan and hit the alarm and reach for coffee cups. I dream through morning and into early afternoon and open my eyes smiling. The world is real; it's alive and so am I. Goddam it, why did it take this long?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

we're not gonna do it alone

On Sunday I visit my sister May, who is nearly my age and just about my height. To us, we are the funniest people alive. We feed off each other in spirals of laughter, so much funny, all the funny. Oh, look, I can't explain why we crack us up so hard. It's like telling someone about your dream from the night before. Our hilarity takes the form of stupid Boris-and-Natasha Russian accents that we get stuck using, unable to give them up for hours on end. Dumb jokes - what's red and bad for your teeth? A brick. What's brown and sticky? A stick.

The pinnacle of comedy.

We're both Well Known Figures in the bars and restaurants of this town. May's a server, with god-like abilities to run a brunch or calm an angry customer. She can guard her crew from bad management or her employer from a hungover staff's hooliganism. As a teenager she was hit by a car; it broke her life and sent it down unexpected paths. The ripples of pain still expand from that moment, but you would never know to watch her glide through a dining room, soothing and urging by turns.

The 9 to 5 is largely unknown to us, and if we want to hang out on the regular we have to make a point of it, so we've made Sunday our day. I got her and her husband and their roommate hooked on Steven Universe, the gayest musical science fiction cartoon ever made, and we've spent weeks catching up on episodes. We eat snacks, we sing the theme song, we discuss the motivations of fictional characters from space. We remember how good it is to be us and how lucky we truly are.

pocket money

For my side job - trivia makes me a happy man, but no one said anything about rich - I run the teleprompter for the live Florida Lottery draw a few nights a week. Because if you are going to be poor anyway, you might as well not take jobs that make you miserable if you can manage it. The woman who set me up with the position was in my Girl Scout troop. Transitioning in your home town leads to odd little unlikelihoods like that. We went to high school together, two dorks in the herd, and she may have been the first peer I came out to. That was years before I knew trans men existed, because 1993 was not 2016. I was just a chubby, awkward dyke all eat up with queer.

So, from there to here. She's a mom now, I'm a man now, and I pay a bill or two because at one point the two of us hunched over a buddy burner in the North Florida woods. Sometimes I think the reason so many of us believe in fate or destiny is because the path we followed seems too strange and yet too clear to have been made up on the spur of the moment.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

stand by, keep watch

Strong and with grace, my friend Donna labored all yesterday and through the night. The midwife - her mother one of the women who helped bring my sisters into the world - and her assistant guided her through, wisdom and skill and short cat naps as things ebbed and flowed.

I'm not a father and I never will be. Too queer, too lazy, too old now. This is not a lament, just a statement. I am an uncle. When someone I love gives birth, I feel an urge as simple and compelling as breath: be at hand. stand by. keep watch. The knight at vigil, the guard at the gate. More honestly, the fellow sleeping in a chair in the corner, ready to fetch snacks or mind other kids, play cards with relatives, provide a shoulder. Just be there.

I got to hold this little one before she was two hours old. I talk nonsense to babies and they seem to like it as long as I pitch the sounds low in my chest like a hum, slow and deep. Uncle Hank is comforting. Her eyes, she was bright and watching already, half smiling, long fingers splaying and then grabbing. Kicking feet, dark curls of hair, already a beauty, already as strong as her mama.

Friday, July 22, 2016

kneeling in the sand

The Wacissa River is short and broad and stays around 70 degrees all year. On my knees among the fish and snails, up to my chin in water and feeling the heat leech out of my body like poison, leaving me cool and healthy and heavy lidded. I touch my niece with cold hands and she gasps and shivers and giggles, perfect Florida baby. I wrestle my nephews and drag them in circles, kicking up a wake, kissing their heads and ears and faces when they dive at me for a tussle.

By the time I drag myself out and wring out my shirt, sunlight's no longer an assault but a comfort. Warm like my sister's smiles as we wrangle her kids. Warm like a dry towel. The whole world is realigned, any irritations nibbled away by the minnows. A poor man in paradise.

to the river

Florida, and the only reason the air itself isn't on fire is because it's saturated. I need to fall into natural water. I need to roll in the river, spring cold, underground cold. Rebirth, rejuvenation, recreation, re-creation. The cliche of baptism, true with or without gods. 

My gods hold these waters sacred because I do - isn't that how this works? 

In summer, the urge to wash off the salt that crusts us is stronger than the whispers in my mind. The fat kid who won't take his shirt off to go in the pool. The trans guy always aware of what isn't in his trunks. In heat like this, who cares? Not me. 

Hellfire, Martha, let's go. 


There is me, Hank. There is the cat, Johnny Karate. I am fat and short and redheaded, and my smile is sort of crooked. I wear black framed glasses, because I like simplicity, and my eyes are a good blue. My belly is a keg that overhangs my belt. The cat is tiny and black and has fangs that overhang his lip, and he looks a little like a bat. He's not bright, but he's sweet. I'm bright and sweet or salt in turn. And that's the two of us, companions. We're used to each other and generally enjoy our company.

We sleep mornings and we live nights, and in between I write trivia rounds and thereby make my living. At dusk I take my bag of tricks, my questions and answers, and cajole smart people into buying drinks while showing off their store of dumb facts. I used to be pukingly shy. Teenage Hank would be horrified if he knew his future. I work blue, and I've lost some of the ability to watch my tongue around small children. Sorry, kids. Don't mind Uncle Hank, he gets excited and forgets his manners. He means well.

Johnny kicks things off shelves and eats expensive food, because he's special. And kind of an asshole.

I'm usually very fond of myself and comfortable in my skin, although I'm a trans man and self acceptance isn't part of the Standard Narrative. Teenage Hank was a different creature than Now Hank, poor guy. He was difficult to be, at times, and I am glad I'm not him now.

This year I turned forty, and I'm of the last generation not raised on the internet. It leaves me cautious, still, about what I put in writing and leave out where people can see it. But silence sparks no conversation. So this is me, Hank. Hello.