March 2, 2008

Work Conference

Posted in transgender, work at 4:31 pm by Michael

TRE Conference

Over the weekend, Anh and I attended the Microsoft event for senior technical folks in the company. It’s generally at some sort of destination location, and spouses/guests are invited. Over the past two years, it’s been in Vancouver, then San Francisco, and this year it was in Palm Springs.

The date for this one was significant for me – my three month anniversary for my FFS surgery. The significance was that three months was the date for the last of the “restrictions” on me. The last two were wearing glasses of any kind (because of the “work” on my nose, and allowing the bone to heal so that I wouldn’t get permanent dents in my nose from the glasses), and then being able to start electrolysis again (infection risk).

Coming into this, I was actually a little nervous. This event has been on the calendar since early last fall, and we have been “looking forward” to it since then. I know a good percentage of the 500+ people here (maybe 20%?), and probably have only seen 1% since I’ve been back to work.

As I written about a ton before, work has been incredibly supportive. However, this was different. Instead of being in a day-to-day environment with my team, this was with peers and their spouses. I had expected that it would be “the same”, but really?

The other nervous-making thing was that whole 20%/1% thing. Part of what’s made work pretty stress-free (from a transition POV) is that for the folks I work with on a daily basis – well, they are over it. It doesn’t really come up. This is a good thing – we’ve moved on to the “New Normal”.

Anyway…. In that context, Anh and I dropped of Samwich with family friends for the weekend, then went to the airport. The flight down was full of conference goers, and we got to catch up with a few folks who we haven’t seen in a while. Overall – normal.

We got down to Palm Springs and settled in late in the afternoon. Later there was dinner, followed by speeches by Bill and Steve. Although this year was an interesting milestone for Bill, as it’s his last of these conferences in his fulltime role with Microsoft, as he transitions to do more work for his charitable foundation.

Walking around and mingling before and after was pretty typical for one of these functions. Introductions this year became an interesting word-choice exercise. How do I introduce Anh? That one turns out to be pretty easy in this context at least – she’s my wife. How does Anh introduce me, if I don’t know the person she’s met or is talking to – husband, spouse, partner? What word works? We struggle with this one quite honestly. We are still (and plan to be!) legally married. Words escape us in this situation.

One thing that I was a little bit surprised by is by how many people were surprised to see us. I got the impression from the “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?” or “wow, I didn’t expect to see you here again so quickly!” that there was this impression that I was going to be gone longer than I was (it sure felt like a long time to me!). But, that being said there was nothing to take offense to in any of these comments or questions.

Later in the night, I was talking to someone who I had worked with quite a bit before, but not in more than a year or two. He had clearly read the blog at length, and still had a lot of questions. We sat down, had a drink, and he asked the really hard question – the “how do you know?” question, and we had a good long talk about it. He also had lots of questions about “how/why did you decide to transition?” – again, long conversation on that point. (I know, I’ve never really written about that… I will sometime.)

The next morning, we worked out for a bit in the gym and then went on to our planned activity – which was a GPS scavenger hunt. We teamed up with another couple (I had worked with the guy before, but not met his wife), and it turned out to be a great time, as we were all runners, and ran hard between all the way points. One of the tasks in the scavenger hunt was to take pictures of your team in various poses at specific locations. One of the poses that we needed to show was “Passion”. We came up with the idea (which is the same idea that all the other teams had) to get a picture of our team members kissing/embracing (obviously their own spouses!). No pause – nothing… we just did it, and later when the pictures were posted on our results boards, I don’t even think there was a stray glance. (We didn’t win the contest, but we loved it. Anh is mega ultra competitive, and this was right up her alley.)

That afternoon we ended up sitting by the pool, but I had to buy a new bathing suit (I didn’t have one, and ended up going modest all the way), and also sunglasses. Interesting milestone.

Saturday night was the “formal” dinner of the weekend as there are some awards given out to individuals and teams. Going to a formal Microsoft event is typically an oxymoron (it’s a super casual place still), but these events have become more and more over the top. One of the guys I used to work with came with a purple zoot suit, complete with fedora and matching purple patent leather shoes. His wife had a classic flapper (but shorter) dress, and they both looked great, and added a ton of class to the event overall. (The theme for the night was “Classic Hollywood”).

Me at TRE

As we were finishing up dinner, I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was someone who worked in the same division that I was last in, but we had never really worked together (or even met as far as I remember actually). He came over to tell me how proud of me he was, and how much courage he thought it must have taken to transition in such a public way. I’m not really doing justice to either what he said or how he said it, but I was blown away. It actually made me tear up a little bit. Here was a guy who knew of me, but no more, who took the time to seek me and Anh out to talk to us. Wow…. Thanks Dilip, that was incredibly kind of you.

As we were walking back to our room, Anh said to me: “This is really a year of firsts. It’s gone well, but I’ll be glad when all of these firsts are behind us. Next year, I bet no one will even notice.”

And on that note, we ended our night, under the stars, walking back as a couple, just like so many of our co-workers did on that same night.

February 28, 2008

Bloggable Moments

Posted in Identification, transgender at 10:28 pm by Michael

Unfortunately, I have to report that I need to increment the Crappy Look Counter to 8.

I hesitate to even call it a “Crappy Look”, but its worth noting, but not in the normal snide tone of that particular page (remember the rule – “No Hatin’ on the Main Blog”).

Anyway, I picked up John and Peri at school (after school actually). John was at after-school art. I went in to get him, and these two little girls, probably no more than eight were looking at me, whispering in each other’s ears and giggling. As I walked to get John, they sort of “backwards followed me”, and continued the process. I smiled at them, and said “Hi”, and you would have thought that it was the funniest thing ever – they both burst out laughing.

Now, I’m not surprised. I actually expected more of this – especially from the kids. John and Peri both just call me “Daddy”, and yeah, that’s a little out of the norm. There was another Mom there, standing right next to me, watching the whole thing, but she was super cool – just smiling, and commented to me how hard it was to collect your kids from art (a bunch of K through 3 rd grade kids are pretty active!)

I will not call it an official “Crappy Look”, but a “Giggly Look” – but the counter still increments.

Later in the evening, I needed to stop to get gas. I stopped near where we live, and there was an obviously drunk, apparently homeless dude who was loudly asking anyone in the area for some money for his next dose of Mad Dog. I was ignoring him, but to no avail. He yells over to me:

“Miss!”

Pause

“Oh Miss!”

Pause

Now he’s right next to my car, just as loud as ever. He then says:

“Do you have anything for me? Just some change?”

I said: “I’m sorry no.”

He said: “Oh, I can’t even get a pretty smile?”

I looked back at him, and with more of half smile said again that I could not, and he was off, skipping drunkily into the night, singing all the way.

On my way back from dropping off Peri and John, I stopped at a mini-mart to grab a diet coke. Its one of the few remaining non-franchise mini-marts w/o a gas station. There was just one guy working in there – he was in his early 20’s (very), overweight, and heavily tattooed (arms, neck).

I got my soda, and walked over to pay. $1.84, I give him two, and get the change back. As he’s giving me my change back he says:

“That’s a nice car you are driving.”

I said “Thanks.” And turned and walked away.

Now, my car’s not that nice. Guys DO compliment each other on their cars, but it’s usually “Wow, cool car!”, or “What’s it got in it?” or “How fast have you gone?”

I was more fascinated by the tone in which he said it, which was a little Rico Suave, but also the sentence construction. Maybe I’m imagining it, but it seemed out of the male/male  gender norm and much more like a male/female interacton.

So, to sum up, at the end of my day, I got read and giggled at by two eight year old girls, told I was pretty by a drunk guy, and then well, then something w/the convenience store clerk.

It’s Been a Busy Week

Posted in family, transgender, work at 4:19 pm by Michael

No, we didn’t get stuck in some sort of black hole after returning from France, but it sure seems like it!

Seattle welcomed us last Friday and Saturday with amazing, sunny, warm (for Seattle) weather, and it was a great re-entry into the great drizzle-bank that usually is Seattle in February.

Then, after a relaxing weekend (jet lag and all), it was off to work, and work was crazy for the past few days.

Yesterday, well, yesterday was “special”. I’m not going to comment *right now* on what was going on, but I will mid-next week.

Today was just another day though, but interestingly, two more people who I had worked with before (quite a bit actually) didn’t recognize me. I’m beginning to think this is a compliment to Dr. O, and his magic FFS surgery.

Anyway, a few people have asked me (in various forms) if I was ok after the whole “Missing Michael” thing in the last post. A couple of clarifications…. what I think I was actually trying to convey was that while I feel *amazing* now, and I feel coherent as a person for the first time in my life, this new space – openly transgendered – is just fundamentally harder than it was before. Its harder for some simple stuff (its hard for me to find clothes off the rack that fit right – especially shoes and shirts – need mail order for size 13 shoes, and “tall” shirts), but I know that our new life is not as mainstream or “easy” as it was before. I recognize that this “New Deal” is harder on those around me (Anh especially) than before, and I have regrets about that.

Anyway, I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m still around, and there’s lots more to come….

February 23, 2008

“Welcome Home!”

Posted in Air France, family, Identification, transgender, travel at 9:07 pm by Michael

The rest of the flight back to Seattle was as uneventful as it was long. Ten hours plus is a long time to sit on a plane. I have to say that the Los Angeles or Newark to Singapore (on Singapore Airlines) flight of 18+ hours just seems like self-flagellation.

As documented earlier, getting into France was easy, but we were wondering how coming home would be – given how picky US Customs has become.

We landed in Seattle, again did the slow-taxi (which was made more painful by the fact that Samwich picked that time to have his one and only freak-out of the entire flight), and pulled up to the gate. We were in the third row of coach, so we were near the front of the customs line, and quickly got to a customs agent. We gave him our passports and declaration form, and he literally smiled to us and said “Welcome Home!”, and that was it.

Wow.

Anh and I have traveled a TON internationally. This was by FAR the easiest entry we’ve ever had. Maybe it was random, maybe we looked friendly, but wow…. I’ve been asked SO many questions before, literally taken ten minutes at the counter – this time – 30 seconds, tops.

We were wondering thought – when they scan in your passport – what data shows up on their screen? How integrated are the US IT systems? All your other trips? Other info? How do they deal with new passport numbers for the same person? (Passport ID #’s are unique per passport, not by the person – this was my first trip w/this passport).

Seattle greeted us upon our return with a sunny, warm (high 50’s, which is warm for Seattle at this time of year) day.

We got in the door, put Samwich down, and he walked over to the windows, and kissed them.

He was happy to get home too, as were we.

February 22, 2008

Paris Departure – Lots of Bee Watcher Watching

Posted in Air France, Identification, Paris, transgender at 5:39 pm by Michael

Up early this morning (515am) for our flight out at 1040am from Paris – Charles De Gaulle. Up and going, and by 615 or so, we were ready to roll. We let the Samwich blow off some steam, and went to check out of the hotel (which we would recommend – see the web address on the last post). No problems.

We had pre-arranged a car to pick us up and bring us to the airport (the pickup from the airport was flawless). We had asked for them to come at 7, but there was a mixup, and they ended up not coming (they wanted a confirmation, wanted only to come at 745am, etc) so we just got a cab.

When we get in the cab, the taxi driver asks us in French where we are going, and we tell him the CDG airport. Which Terminal? Terminal 2! You would have thought we were total idiots! He starts ranting (in French), basically saying “Duh Terminal 2, which one? A, B, C, D, E?”. Uh, we have no idea. He mutters in French something unintelligible, and looks it up in some book, after asking us what our destination is. We think we are heading to the right place. CDG is a huge airport though, so ending up on the wrong end would suck.

One thing that struck me getting out of Paris is that there are no freeways, highways, or even any sort of limited access roads through the city (that we saw at least). As far as I could tell, the city itself is a highway free zone. Granted, the traffic wasn’t horrible at 715am, but it took a half an hour to get from the city center, just south of the Seine to the highway outside of town. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but certainly different than any American city, and different than many cities in Europe as well (to take that long to get from the center to the highway).

Also, our cab driver was super into French talk radio – from what I picked up it sounded like political talk radio (they were talking lot about Sarcozy and also Obama). He liked it LOUD. I can just imagine what Rush Limbaugh sounds like to foreign ears. I didn’t dare ask him to turn it off after the whole Terminal-Dumbass incident.

Anyway, we roll into the airport (Terminal 2 E was our destination I guess) (it took about 30 minutes), with just less than three hours left till our flight, and look toward the ubiquitous “Big Board” to see if our flight is in this area. Bingo – AF 40 to Seattle, E 94, Area 5.

Walking in, we see pairs of guards in fatigues with machine guns. Its always spooky when I see this in airports.

The CDG airport uses the checkin method that I’ve seen before at many other airports (except the US) – where there are specific checkin bays for a flight or set of flights. Luckily, bay 5 wasn’t crowded, and after waiting for just a few minutes, we got to the first bee watcher. (See Dr. Suess’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”).

Bee Watcher #1’s job was to make sure that you went to the right bay. Now, from watching other people who went up to Mr. Bee Watcher #1, you would have thought there was some sort of advanced calculus exam going on. He spent a minute or two with each, and he turned away at least half of the people.

Our turn, and I’m ready for the Bridge Keeper at the Bridge of Death. Ok, I’m ready, ask me your questions, I’m not afraid!

“What is your destination?”

“Seattle!”

“Ok, go.’

Huh? How anti-climactic.

On to the line for Bee Watcher Watcher #2 Bee Watcher Watcher #2 wants to see passports, and asks you some security questions about your carry on bags. Are you carrying any weapons or knives? Anything sharp? Note – tweezers – ok in the US, not ok in Europe. We had to move some from carryon to checkin.

Bee Watcher Watcher #2 then sends you to the right line or your flight (each flight, different line within the gate). There are also ten electronic checkin kiosks, about half of which are unused. I asked Ms. Bee Watcher Watcher #2 if those could be used, and she said “Yes, you can use those to checkin, then get in the line to drop off your bags.”

Ok, I’m not sure what this is going to save, but whatever, I’ll try it out. Anh gets in the regular line, I go over to a kiosk and start the checkin process. The kiosk says that it works for both with checked bags, and for carryon only. I start through the process, and by using my passport it finds our record, and we are good to go. As is common with international flights, the info from your passport needs to get entered (number, expiration date, country of issue, country of residence). Northwest rocks at this – when you scan your passport, it gets the info off. However, Air France, not so good. Even though there is a passport scanner at the machine and it recognized my passport, I have to manually enter all the data.

Pang #1. I’m entering my data, and it asks if I’m a man or a woman. I pause, and try to think about why it’s asking. These days, this question requires context for me. Ah, to match my passport. On my passport I’m “M”, so I have to enter that. I know I know, I’ve said about a billion times that I don’t care. I cared. I didn’t want to hit the blue button, but I had to.

I finish up with the passport data entry, and I expect it to ask me if I want to check bags (which I do – two of em). No such luck. It spits out three boarding passes. I’m expecting to see Mr. Megan Wallent on mine, but at least they don’t print salutations.

At this point, Anh is almost first in the Bee Watcher Watcher #3 line (this person at least has a real task – to check the bags). We go up to the counter, give her the boarding passes, and say we want to checkin two bags. We have to show the passports, again, and she takes a look at each of us to make sure they match.

We get the bags tagged, and they are off. I’m super curious, but do not ask – what on earth are the kiosks for? You HAVE to stand in the line, even if you have no bags to check. Those kiosks are like Bee Watcher Watcher # 2 and a half at least.

Ok, we are off to security, or so we think. Nope, exit passport control. This is one thing I love about the US – no exit passport control. You want to leave, go for it!

Here we get to first see Bee Watcher Watcher #4, who makes sure that we have boarding passes and tickets, then lets us get in the line. She didn’t even check to make sure they matched – they just needed to exist.

Now, on to Bee Watcher Watcher #5 – again perhaps a real Bee Watcher – who is National Police, and checks our passports, checks our faces, and stamps our passports saying we left. Oddly, they never stamped our passports saying we entered. Odd.

We are not yet to security, but I can taste it. Again, there’s another Bee Watcher – #6 – again with the passports and the boarding passes, and insuring that we have same. He directs us to an appropriate line, which as soon as we get into it closes. We move next door – and it closes. Oh for Two. Line three – success! We can be security screened by the security Bee Watcher Watchers (#7 – although there were at least five of them).

With the baby, we have extra liquid, which means pulling out his bottle, plus out toiletry bags, and making sure it’s all separate.

We get through, repack, and are on to our “Gate”. Turns out that Terminal #2 E is under construction, so there are temporary structures for the gates – no jet bridges, and you get picked up by bus and brought to the plane when the flight is called.

We get there about 45 minutes before boarding, let the Samwich run around a little to burn off more energy pre-10 hours of confinement, and hang out. On time, our flight gets called, and we get to pre-board.

The boarding process required two more Bee Watcher Watchers, #8 and #9. #8 checks our passports and tickets (again!), and #9, an actual Bee Watcher, scans our tickets. Woo Hoo, we can get on the bus! After the bus is full, it waits a good 10 minutes to make sure its really full, and then goes on to the plane at 1kph. Literally. Walking would have been faster.

Anyway, we get to the plane, and there are of course boarding stairs, which need to get climbed. The complexity here is that we have our carry on stuff (backpack, my bag, Samwich’s small backpack), plus him (Mr. Wiggly at this point), plus his carseat. Stairs suck.

We get to the top of the stairs, and get on the plane. The purser asks where we are sitting, and I tell her, and then we try to get on – no such luck. She wants to see the boarding passes. Bee Watcher Watcher #10. At this point, in one arm I have Samwich, the other his carseat, and need to produce the boarding passes which are in my back pocket.

I smile and say “Sorry, I’ll get them. It may take a sec, ok?”

She smiles, and waits patiently while we get our passes, which we dutifully do, and we find our seats and stow our stuff.

As we are sitting waiting for the Bees to fly us to Seattle, I have Pang #2. In three months this hasn’t happened to me.

I miss Michael.

I start to get a little teary, but I don’t think anyone except for me noticed. I’m not saying that I wish I didn’t go through with my transition. I know it was the right thing for me. It is who I am.

Maybe it was the passport craziness. Maybe it was that instead of one of the Bee Watcher Watchers giving us two US Customs declarations forms and not one. Maybe it was the omni-present French choice of Madame v. Monsieur? Maybe it was that it’s not as “easy”.

For all of those reasons, and maybe more, I did and do.

February 21, 2008

Paris Travel Summary (Details to Follow!)

Posted in food, Paris, Samwich, transgender, travel at 12:16 am by Michael

Eiffel in the Trees

Our overall approach to Paris was to try to do it on foot as much as possible. Our fallback was the Metro (subway), which is very good here. I was imagining thoughtful strolls down wide boulevards and narrow streets, with the sound of classic French music lofting through the air, with the smells of baguettes and croissants not far behind.

Um, Paris is a big, modern city. Big.

We have walked a lot (primary mode of transport), which has been *fantastic* for learning our way around. We’ve gotten to see little small things that we’d miss if underground – smaller shops, architecture, small gardens and just people living their daily lives. I wouldn’t trade these things or change our approach at all.

We also had the fortune of having one of our friends refer us to her sister in law who is a Parisienne, who had dinner with us on Monday and Wednesday. We asked her to pick the places, and at the restaurants, we left the ordering to her and the waiter/sommelier. This was an awesome way to experience dining in the city. We were super fortunate that Marie-Pierre knows food, wine, and the local dining scene. She was amazing.

But yes, all of this goodness of foot travel comes at a cost. We have this independent, squirming, heavy (25 lbs+), brilliant, inquisitive little being that travels with us. We call him the Samwich. He needed to be carried – everywhere. Again, we used the Baby Ergo carrier, which I’ve written about before – its awesome – can be used as a front or backpack. Well, you dummies, why not use a stroller? Well, Paris, like Rome and most of Europe isn’t exactly stroller friendly. The streets can be narrow or crowded (or both), with lots of cobblestones, curbs, steps. The only people using strollers that didn’t look like they were about to go insane were those using the big-wheeled jogging strollers.

Because of the carry issue, my legs and feet (and Anh’s too) feel like we’ve done a long week of hiking (because we have!). This is not a complaint at all – but a tradeoff – see more, walk more, but your range is limited.

The other kid issue that we have had is around finding reasonable open spaces for Samwich to play. He now walks, but in that Frankenstein, crazy car (car that moves forward till it bumps into something, then turns briefly and repeats), uncommandable way. Our hotel room is small, as you would expect in a European city, and this being winter (Wednesday it rained as well), the outside parks aren’t always the best choices. We found that the best place to let him roam reasonably was in the Louvre. Its so big that he can walk around, but also the crowds are dispersed, and you can find a room w/o a lot of people so he doesn’t bug someone.

One little annoying thing that he discovered this week is the concept of an echo, and where said echo can be used to great effect. The parent in me both cringed an applauded this mini-science breakthrough. He’s Brilliant! He’s Annoying! He’s both! Walk into a big room – e.g. Pantheon, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, and he starts echo-locating like a bat, except audible. Yes, very audible. “BAH!” Samwich, “Shhh….” “BAH!”. He’d get a big grin on his face, as he realized the ability to control his surroundings, but wow, it was annoying. We moved on from these places quickly. (Or in the case of the Pantheon, he found stairs to go up and down and up and down – that was his other major discovery of the week – Stairs. The subtitle for this whole vacation has been “Stairs – who KNEW how cool they were!”)

Oh the food – we’ve had *great food* (more on that later), but as in most major cities, there’s a lot of not-great food, and without a lot of research, and trust-able sources, its hard to find the gems within the non-gems.

A couple of Samwich related eating items for reference. First off, high chairs or boosters – we only saw them one time all week – the café at the Musee D’Orsay. I almost took a picture of them – there were five, all different, all bedraggled. Every single other place we went to – and these were not just high-end shi shi places – nothing. He sat on one of our laps. This was made more complex by the fact that given his developmental stage (reaches for everything and “Can’t control… fists of death!”) (oh, and that nice hot coffee felt SUPER good in my lap Sunday – love and kisses Samwich!) a large two foot diameter “Zone of Destruction” must be cleared in front of him or unintended merriment will in fact, ensue. The tables in general are also very very small. This means that when the waiters come with the food – they see this nice big open space to put it in, and Anh and I quickly would have to do the big shuffle to move plates before Samwich did. Lastly, on the Samwich front, no kids menus… we just gave him our food, and this was fine (he eats all kinds of foods at this point).

This is noted in virtually all of the guidebooks, but I’ll reiterate here. There are a number of types of restaurants in Paris. There are cafés, which are mostly coffee/snack/drinking places. There’s an interesting phenomenon here, as these places have both inside an outside seating. The outside seating is *packed* – even in the winter, in the rain, no matter. Inside seating – empty. Why? Recently passed indoor smoking ban. The outside tables aren’t covered, even if they are under cover, with the sides having plastic walls, and only the front open. As a result, the sidewalk cafés are very busy, and full of people enjoying their Galoises. These are NOT food places…

There are chains, brasseries, counter service places, etc.

There are the ever-present creperies – which do have very yummy crepes, made on demand (don’t even try the premade ones…). Great for a snack. We also saw a lot of gyro stands, advertised as “Grec’ or “Turkic” samwiches. These looked, as you would imagine, of varying quality.

Bistros or (Bistrot en Francais) are more food oriented, and the variety here is amazing. We went to one  (La Regalade) Wednesday night with Marie Pierre and it was *fantastic*.

Then there are the “Chef” or “Gastromic” restaurants. We went to one, again with Marie-Pierre on Monday (Pierre Gagnaires’s, 6 rue Balzac 75008), and it was an experience (more later).

Even if you go to a counter service restaurant – a carafe of wine with lunch is enjoyable (if you like wine!). It’s a great way to find less expensive wines, and to try them out. Virtually every table will have one on them – even businesspeople at lunch!

Which bring us to the lovely state of the euro v. the dollar. Euros are expensive. Paris is expensive. Expect to pay New York city prices (in euros) for virtually everything. Then add 40% for the exchange rate, and viola! No money left!

On the language side, Anh and I both can speak some French, so we can at least be polite. However, we get “read” as English speakers instantly, and generally get replies in English – not because the people are rude, but because they are being helpful. Sometimes though, we start in French, and ask what we think is a simple question, the answer to which that we can understand, but then get blown away by a wave of French that we have no hope of understanding.

We try very hard to be polite in French, and start that way out of politeness. Compared to Italy, where we found people to speak less English than even Japan or China, Paris has been amazingly language-friendly for English speakers.

That’s the short summary… I’ll fill in some more details shortly.

Oh, and the whole trans thing – it’s a total non-issue here. I still get “Mademoiselled” here most of the time, and the Crappy Look Counter hasn’t budged. If you are polite, people are polite back!

Today is our last full day in the city, and we have one more nice meal planned – L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon, which looks virtually identical to his place in Las Vegas at the MGM (which we love), so I’ll report on that when we are done! (plus detailed day-by-day info about what we did…)

February 16, 2008

A Day in Paris, but no Good Food? (Almost!)

Posted in Identification, Paris, transgender, travel at 4:00 pm by Michael

After we arrived at our hotel this morning, we went out for a walk because a) it was only 10:30am, and too early to check in b) we didn’t want to fall asleep yet.

We are staying in the 6th arrondisement (neighborhood), near the Luxemburg Gardens, so we decided to go check that out, and get some food.

First off – wow – colder here than forecast. It was only in the mid-30’s, with crisp skies, and a brisk wind. The Weather Channel forecast was for the high 40’s to low 50’s. Uh, not the same! So, after a short time hanging around in the garden (which is a big park w/kid jungle gym stuff, large gardens, broad walkways, etc), we decided to look for someplace good for lunch. We had a guidebook from my co-worker Erin (thanks!), and we quickly discovered that L’Atelier du Joel Robuchon was only a 10 minute walk away. Score! Open for lunch at 11:30am too… double score!

Before we walked over there, we stopped to get some water at a little kiosk – we were all pretty dehydrated from the flight, and just not drinking enough. I was pleased that the three years of high-school French that I took enabled me to order two Evian waters in French, understand how much it was, and be polite in thanking the attendant. Here we had interesting trans/cultural moment #1 – he also called Anh and I “Mesdames” (“Ladies”) as he thanked us.

We walked over to our lunch spot, guided by the ever-present Garmin Nuvi 270. The Nuvi is *awesome* when driving. However, when walking, it has a hard time w/direction of travel, especially when the road gets narrow and the buildings more than three to four stories – this unfortunately is common in Paris. Oh well, we got there. We walk in, and we think SCORE! Its empty, we are definitely going to get a table. The maitre’d asks (in French) if we have a reservation, we say no, and then he says, no tables till 4pm. We say, sorry, but we can’t wait that long for lunch, so we say we’ll find something else, and thank him. Again, we get “Mesdames”’ed.

At this point, Anh and I, in our tiredness, broke one of our rules – always eat good food. We settled for a crappy café, and while edible, was not great. Oh well.

Walking back to the hotel, we found a kid’s clothes store that looked cool, so we went in, and found hats big enough for us both, and some knit gloves too. We were both super frosty at this point, but at least Anh had brought a hat and mittens for Samwich, or else he would have been a cold little dude.

We went back to the hotel, rested a while, and weren’t initially in the mood to go far for dinner, so we asked the concierge – he recommended a 3 Michelin Star place, that he said was good for kids. Huh. But, they didn’t serve for another hour, and we were hungry. We asked him for the next best bet, and he sent us to a place down the block that again, wasn’t great. It was ok – a bottle of wine helped – but not at all great.

Kind of discouraged, we went back to the hotel, and were deciding between going for a long walk, and going to bed. We decided to go for the long walk, which was one of the best decisions we made all day. We walked out to the Siene, and on the way saw all of these amazing furniture and kitchen stores. Most of the stuff was ultra-modern (or 60’s) designed stuff. I said to Anh: “I’d love to visit that furniture, but I’m not sure I could own it.” Too cold for our tastes…

The other interesting thing in many of the model kitchens was that next to the built-in microwave, there was often a built in espresso maker. I had not seen this before – but super cool!

We must have walked through kitchen world, because we came upon this amazing oven store called “Aga”. It was closed, but we took this picture through the window (sorry for the glare).

Cool Stove

They had lots of these old school looking stoves, and they were just beautiful. They also had an amazing collection of cast iron pots and cookery. We are definitely going back when it’s open! We may need some cast iron (cheap to ship I hear!)

As we came up to the river, and near the Musee D’Orsay (going there soon – my favorite art museum on the planet), we got a full view of the Eiffel Tower. Then, it started “strobing” with all of the small strobe lights.

Blinky Eiffel Tower

It lasted for about 15 minutes, I have no idea what was going on, but it was gorgeous.

We walked a little more, then headed back. On the way, Anh said she was on the lookout for a creperie, and sure enough, right before we got back to the hotel, we found one.

Best food of the day – Nutella, banana and coconut shavings. Yum! We all enjoyed.

It’s now just about 1am here, Samwich just fell asleep (he slept a lot on our walk – then got up just before we got back and was up for a couple of hours), Anh’s sleeping too – but I’m wide awake, I’m jet lagged, so the result are the last two blog entries.

Reflecting on the day’s whole sir/ma’am “French Edition” stuff, it makes me thing (and lots of folks have commented on this), that Sir’ing in the US is super common, but “Miss’ing” or “Ma’am”’ing isn’t. Here, that’s not the case. The language is more polite and far more “gendered” (e.g., even every noun has a gender) – so, its not possible to not be as “gendered” in France. It forces people, even when you are in the “whitespace” (like me) to choose. Today, I was at least 90% of the time, for the people who interacted with me, seen as female. I was honestly surprised about that (how high it was).

Anyway… as predicted, its an adventure, and always something new to experience.

Paris – Getting Here

Posted in Air France, family, Identification, Paris, Samwich, transgender, travel at 2:48 pm by Michael

One of the things that we have come to learn from traveling in general, but traveling with kids specifically is that direct flights are your friend. Sometimes you pay a little more, but its absolutely worth it.

Air France just started direct service from Seattle to Paris last year, so we decided that Paris would be a great destination for us.

This would also be our first “post transition” trip, and we are doing this with just Samwich, as Peri and John are with their mom this week.

We both had a little trepidation around if this would be harder than a domestic trip with the TSA, airlines, and also walking around in a new city.

Fundamentally, all of those concerns have been non-issues to date. So far, if anything, Paris has been even easier than other places we have gone.

First off, with Air France – you aren’t allowed to checkin electronically if you are going with a child under two – either on lap, or in a seat. So we had to check in at the counter. We all have passports (obviously), but I was wondering if the ticket agent would ask who Samwich’s dad was, and if he had consented to the trip. (We’ve had this question before when going both domestic and international with Peri and John.) We checked in, no questions.

On to TSA – three passports, three tickets, no problems.

When we went to Italy last year with all three kids (Samwich was five months then), we went with SAS through Copenhagen then to Rome. SAS is a very kid friendly airline. Rome as an airport (and their infrastructure in general) isn’t great – the baggage handlers had a work “slowdown” and intentionally didn’t give us one out of four of our total bags – we had to wait two days. But, the airline – top rate – best kid experience ever. I was curious to see how Air France did.

Like most airlines, they do early board for families with kids, and we did that. We have this super cool “convertible” stroller/car seat for Samwich that does this Transformers deal that allows it to go from stroller to car seat and back. It’s called a “Sit N Stroll” (I couldn’t find an active link for it right now… odd). Its FAA approved, we’ve used it a ton. The coolest thing is that (on some planes) you can stroll it right down the aisle (it fits in general), and then “convert” it at your seat. It is a little hard to convert it w/the kid strapped in, but my arms are long enough to do it. Anh has a harder time w/it – it’s not a strength thing – it’s a leverage and reach thing. Anyway, we get to the seat (I had to convert it early because the aisle was too narrow), and we have bulkhead seats – three in the middle (of four – it’s a 2/4/2 configuration – an Airbus A330-200), but in the bulkhead the armrests are permanently down (to allow for video screens to come out of the armrests), and the seat is too narrow for the car seat. Dammit! Turns out that we tried it the row back, and it was ok – there was just enough space to get it in.  There were two flight attendants (female) in the cabin right there, and they were super helpful. We ended up swapping seats w/some folks three rows back, and it worked out just fine. The flight was uneventful, and they even had baby food (apple sauce and some other veggie/chicken thing) that usually Samwich won’t touch, but he did eat the apple sauce and was great. I’ve never seen an airline automatically carry jar baby food before. Super impressive. They also gave away little toys to the kids (age appropriate), but didn’t give out infant life vests, which SAS and Northwest both do. I kind of think this is no biggie, as quite honestly, when was the last time that *anyone* was saved by an airline life vest, or there was a survivable ditching of an airliner in the ocean – the 50’s?

Getting Samwich up at 2:30am the night before helped him to time-adjust, and he slept for half the trip. We got in at just about 9am (left at 2pm Seattle time – 9 hour flight, 9 hour time difference), and on to the next test – customs.

Again, a total non-issue (remember, my passport says “Megan Jenna Wallent”, but has an M for gender). The customs agent, who spoke English (thank you!), even greeted and said goodbye to us using the plural feminine French term (Mesdames).

We had a car service arranged, that worked flawlessly too, and we got to the hotel, even with customs, checking bags, and a thirty minute drive by 10:30am. Not bad!

February 15, 2008

On to Paris

Posted in Identification, transgender, travel at 5:56 am by Michael

Paris!

Later today, Anh, Samwich and I are going to Paris for the week.

Our plan, which is not as much of a plan as a non-plan is to “hang out”. Walk around, eat, go to museums, etc. Take pictures of Samwich in front of all they key landmarks. Maybe he needs a beret?

We are all super excited for this, and this was one of our things to look forward through as we got through my transition. This is our first international trip since, and I’m honestly fascinated to see how it goes.

This will be Samwich’s second international trip – we did go to Italy last summer for our big vacation – but with Peri and John as well… that was incredibly interesting and fun, but he was barely beyond the protoplasm phase at that point (5 months) – he ate some local food, but that was about it. This should be different with him now, as he’s a mini-gourmand, and he’s walking.

I did get my new permanent “Megan Jenna Wallent – F” license in the mail on my birthday, as well as my new Amex card with my name on it.

I had applied for a new passport back in mid-December, paid the expedited fee, and got it in less than two weeks, which was awesome. However, due to State Department rules about gender specification on passports, I’m still “M” on that.

I expect security at SeaTac to be the same as the other times that we’ve traveled – no biggie.

However, what will the passport control be like in France?

Will I get “read” more or less there?

Will we be treated differently on the street, in restaurants, in shops?

We are planning on going to some pretty high-end restaurants with a local while we are there (sister of a local friend is a Parisienne – SCORE!) – what will that be like?

My expectation: no biggie – same as here.

Smile and Wave, Paris edition….

February 10, 2008

Hope for the Future

Posted in family, food, transgender at 7:22 am by Michael

Last night, Peri, John, Anh and I went to Blue Ginger in Bellevue for Korean BBQ. (The make-it-yourself kind). It’s my birthday next week, and this was a pseudo-birthday dinner.

The food was pretty good – the best thing that we had was the diced beef Bulgogi style – cooked a little crispy (not like me in the hotel last week!).

Anyway, yesterday was the caucus in Washington State, and we were talking about the election with the kids.

John said “I would vote for the person who would cut taxes!”.

I said: “Well John, I think thats an important issue too, but you know there are some candidates that don’t believe that we should be allowed to be a family. I think that’s probably the most important issue for me this time.”

Peri virtually jumped out of her skin:

“YOU ARE KIDDING ME! NO WAY!”

If she knew how to say “Frigging” or the other less polite F word, it would have come out.

“Yes, Peri, thats true.”

“THAT IS TOTALLY REDICULOUS!”

John then pipes in, with a really angry look on his face:

“Thats stupid. Thinking that should be against the law.”

John hops to thought-police mode pretty quickly sometimes. Anh was going to get them both Animal Farm to read, but hey, he’s seven.

Peri is now totally incensed, and wants some details.

“Who would think such a thing?”

“Well, Mike Huckabee for one, and Mitt Romney too.”

(Huckabee’s own page on this point is here, which includes this little bon mot – I’m not making this up:

What’s the point of keeping the terrorists at bay in the Middle East if we can’t keep decline and decadence at bay here at home?

Dammit Anh! We are letting the terrorists win!)

(Here’s what Romney had to say to Bill O’Reilly

It’s as commonsensical as one can imagine, because you have a child that’s able to determine from each parent the attributes of that gender, and by virtue of doing so is able to determine their own sexuality and the relationship with members of the opposite sex.

Ah, so Romney believes that being Gay is a choice…. interesting. Which ties directly into use of words as well – “commonsensical”, which is defined as:

“practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like”

Hmm… so what he’s saying is that people who really haven’t researched the issues, or are not experts in the area would have this opinion. Brilliant Governor! Brilliant!) 

Peri: “Well, I hope NOBODY would vote for them, ever.”

Me too Peri, Me too.

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