Updated: Jun 22, 2022
by Kidd Williams
The lyric poems of Homer, "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," aren't the oldest surviving literature, but they're close. They're about timeless situations: war, pride, honor – and coming home.
In the beginning of “The Odyssey," we hear that Odysseus is stranded on the island of the goddess Calypso, shipwrecked after his disastrous attempts to sail home to Ithaca from the Trojan War. Calypso:
holds that poor unhappy man.
and tries beguiling him with gentle words
to cease all thoughts of Ithaca; but he
longs to see even just the smoke that rises
from his own homeland, and he wants to die.
(from “The Odyssey of Homer,” translated by Emily Wilson. W. W Norton & Co. 2018. ISBN 978-0-393-35625-0. p. 107)
In the previous post on poetry and LGBTQ+ issues, I described how poetry's use of imagery helped describe my own transgender feelings. One metaphor that I used for the pre-transition sense of dysphoria was "feeling homesick all the time."
(Right on, Odysseus.)
In late spring of 2015, I reached the point where I knew I needed to talk with professionals about my gender identity. I'd discussed this with my spouse and with my sister. "I'm having trouble feeling male," I'd said. (What an understatement!) The love and support that each gave boosted my courage to call for more help. I used the "find a local therapist" feature of Psychology Today's online magazine and picked out three, calling to see if they could accept new patients and had experience with those who "might be dealing with gender identity issues."
One didn't call back, and one had no openings. That was okay – the third, the one I was most excited about, was available. Her approach was Jungian, she and her profile said, and included dream analysis and mythopoetic work with and from the psyche. Perfect! Once again, poetry was coming through, not just to entertain, but to guide. We scheduled an appointment.
Slowly, this kind, perceptive therapist and I worked through thoughts, feelings, history, and, yes, dreams and more dreams. By summer, I started to have a series of recurring dreams, which I explored in counseling and in poetry.
In these new dreams, I was always in any one of a half-dozen houses or apartments I'd actually lived in through my life. Invariably, I dream-discovered that there was a whole addition, or annex, or extra floor, or basement, that I hadn't known about before or else had forgotten was there. These extra rooms were always bigger, brighter, cleaner, more comfortable than the parts I lived in. (In one especially vivid dream, the forgotten addition was enormous, all crystal and chrome, resembling the Corning Museum of Glass more than anything.) In the dreams, I’d ask myself, why not move to this bigger, better space?
The real-world reasons why were both lengthy and flimsy: I was 49 - wasn't that too old? I had a good life, good job - why risk their loss? My closest friends and the rest of my family would probably accept a transition - but what if they didn't? You never really knew, did you?
I told my counselor, "So what if I don't transition, and live the rest of my life at like a 2 or 3 out of 10 for happiness? That's pretty good isn't it? Some people have hardships that keep them at - 4 or - 5. I'm lucky. I have so much to lose. I should probably just learn to accept it, right?"
My counselor said, "Why would you be content with living your life at a 2 or 3, when you could be at 7, 8, 9, 10?"
She, of course, was right.
(Looking back at "The Odyssey," we see that even Calypso's island wasn't enough to bring happiness to Odysseus. Although it was lush, tranquil, and on it he would live forever as the consort of a goddess, for him it just wasn't home. He would never feel happy there. Right on, again.)
I explored local resources for transgender people (which the next, final June post will also detail), and, after medical consultations and tests, in August started Hormone Replacement Therapy.
For a trans woman, HRT means taking medicine that suppresses the production of testosterone, and other medication that boosts estrogen levels. (Everyone actually has both hormones in our bodies, all the time, but only one or the other are dominant.)
As hormones do, the new, proper balance of estrogen gave the cells of my body marching orders – essentially initiating a “second puberty,” using the blueprints for a female-based body that were always present in my DNA, but had been left under-expressed until now.
Both my body and my brain loved having estrogen in control! To go back to metaphors, it felt to me as though my brain was a car that someone had been trying to run on diesel fuel my whole life, and which now, finally, had high-octane gas in the tank. I felt calmer, better, happier – and my body started changing, too.
(A wonderful online resource describes the effects of HRT for both trans femme and trans masculine individuals well: the Gender Dysphoria Bible. I'll let that suffice for here.)
My poetry also started changing. Just like the city of Troy, walls fell. I felt free, at home finally – and home was now everywhere I was. I wrote:
Your Nomad Home
starts at the top of the sky, where
the crown of the head points
whenever you stand in the open,
and you always stand in the open.
But it’s a ramshackle house –
the sky-roof frequently leaks, the
sun-furnace goes out at night, every
night. There’s so much place
to put all your things, but they
get mixed up with everyone else’s,
so you might forget just what’s yours
and what’s not.
You’ll never have to paint the walls,
but you’ll never find them, either,
no matter how far you walk,
no matter how earnestly
you stretch out your hand.
(Previously appearing in the City of Elmira’s 2015 Poetry Posts project, in Cypress Street Park, and also read at my friend Len Vogler’s funeral, August 2016, where I promised I'd never read it aloud in public again.)
Yes, I had finally found a home in my body, but the work is not done, even today. Because what “The Odyssey” and other “hero’s journey” stories teach us is that, after returning home, heroes (and heroines) must share with their community the knowledge or gifts they’ve found. I’ll say more about this in the next, final post: “Discipline, and Action.”
About the Author
Kidd Williams is the publishing and performing name of Joy Williams, a trans woman poet and musician in Bath, NY. Her work has appeared throughout the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier in numerous regional anthologies, and has been exhibited in juried art shows as well as displayed in outdoor parks through the City of Elmira's "Poetry Posts" projects. She has also been a featured performing artist, including as an invited poet reading on stage at Corning PRIDE 2019. She and her wife, Tara, have lived in Bath almost forever, with many companion animals that sport fur or scales.