Tag Archives: The American Dream

How The American Dream Nearly Destroyed Me

Reflections On A Wasted Life, And Why I Don’t Regret It.

They really should have seen it coming, my parents. After 4 years of college, my mother graduated with the ability to speak, read, and write French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Latin. Imagine the opportunities available to a woman with those skills!

Unfortunately, this was 1949. But she did get hired – as a receptionist in an import/export firm that needed someone who could speak both English and Portuguese.

Still, that didn’t keep them from “knowing” that the best path for my life included a college education. So that’s what I was groomed for from the start.

The first crisis came at the end of 7th grade. For the first semester, we had to take a class called “mechanical drawing.” I guess we’d call that class “drafting” or even “CAD/CAM” today. Regardless, we were given a blueprint to copy. I did so and excelled at it.

The second semester included “Wood Shop,” where we had to take the previous semester’s drawing and bring it to life in wood. Again, I excelled at it, despite never having used a tool in my life. The teacher said I had a natural feel for the wood.

Now it was the end of the semester. Time to choose which classes to take the following year. I signed up for every shop class on offer and handed in my choices, which had to be approved by my guidance counselor. If he were alive today, would it be possible to sue him for malpractice?

He called me into his office. “You don’t want to take these classes,” he said. “These classes are for the dummies. You’re going to college. Besides, there’s no future in wood.”

“Really? What about houses?” I thought but didn’t say.

Good advice. The highest-paying job I’ve ever held paid $18 an hour—and that was in a field where I was making electromechanical repairs. A job that didn’t require a college education.

Meanwhile, when I had a plumbing problem last month, I had to call a “dummy” and pay him $65 an hour to fix it.

I lived for a few years in the San Francisco Bay Area. One of my favorite pastimes was visiting some of the shops on Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, looking at the price tags on the hand-made wooden armoires and jewelry boxes: $850, $1200, $925, $18,000. No future in it, my ass.

I’ve gone to college on 6 separate occasions. Although I have enough credits for a bachelor’s degree, I have yet to remain at one college long enough to graduate. But I’m still saddled with over $100,000 of student loan debt. And at my age (70), I’m afraid that when it’s my turn to go, much like Tennessee Ernie Ford, I’ll have to say, “St. Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.”

Then there’s the problem of gender identity. At the age of 59, after years of therapy, counseling, failed marriages, suicide attempts, and self-medicating within illicit drugs, I finally discovered the proximate cause of my problems: I had been living a lie, trying to be something I wasn’t.

As soon as I decided to stop pretending I was male, things got better. And worse.

The Better

  • I was able to go off four of my six anti-depressants
  • I was able to be – and live – my authentic self
  • I met a woman who accepted me for who I am. We’ve been married for 11 years
  • I no longer have to hide my tears
  • Younger people accept me as I am

The Worse

  • I’ve lost jobs because of who I am
  • Because of that, I had to take early Social Security
  • I still avoid using public restrooms whenever I can
  • I still get misgendered by people who should know better

But Still, I Persevere

I knew when I stopped pretending, I’d lose friends and possibly family. But the friends I lost weren’t worth having in the first place if they couldn’t accept the authentic me.

There were rifts in my immediate family, but over time, they’ve healed.

Now, as the real me, I have more and closer friends than ever before. The LGBT+ community where I live is vibrant and thriving. Our city – Rochester, NY – has ordinances protecting us. I can, for the most part, use public restrooms safely, although I don’t push it. I rarely used them before my change, anyway.

But I still wish I had been able to take those shop classes.

 

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