September 29th was a travel day. I was traveling to Pittsburgh to get my daughter so she could go to a doctor’s appointment here in Rochester (she was still on my insurance, which is functionally useless in Pennsylvania).
This was a route I had traveled dozens of times over the last five years, first while she was in college, then during a fellowship, and now that she decided to live there with her fella.
If this sounds like a lot of driving to do, it is, but the driving is mitigated by the fact that a) I like driving, and b) I love my daughter, & I'll jump at any chance I get to spend time with her.
So it’s a well-travelled route, so much so that I can tell you not only how to get there, but also the safest places for a transgender woman traveling alone can stop, and how long those stops will take.
That being said, it should be noted that however long I tell my daughter the drive will be, it is invariably longer that what I said. So much so that it’s kind of a running joke with her:
“I’m leaving now. See you at 4:30.”
“Okay. See you at six.”
I decided this time I'd break that routine & make sure to get there when I said I would. I paid attention to the time I spent at the rest stops, pushed the speed limit where I could, & was ahead of schedule when I pulled into the rest stop to get rid of the coffee I got in Erie.
I was so far ahead of schedule that I took time to enjoy the sunshine & the turning leaves of this beautiful mid-autumn day, even snapping a selfie or two under an oak tree.
Then, because I still had time, I dumped the trash that from my car & drove off.
As I pulled away, I had this feeling something was wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what. While I thought about this, I absently reached out with my right thumb to straighten the ring on my right ring finger. And I hit the brakes.
The ring. My ring was gone.
It was a cheap, cheap ring. The sort you see displayed in those little shops that sell knockoff scarves, pleather purses & cheap jewelry in strip malls, because that’s where I bought it, like five years ago. I bought it during a brunch & browse date with my friend Carson.
We had shown up at the restaurant wearing identical black patent Steve Madden ballet flats with gold lining. Carson was so delighted that this happened that she declared us “twinsies,” even though she was wearing the smallest shoe in the line, and I was wearing the largest.
So when we discovered two identical rings that also fit us both, well, we had to get those too! They were silver-ish, and were worked (or more likely stamped) into the shape of the infinity symbol, and we held our hands out with rings and declared we were “twinsies to infinity!”
It was one of the best afternoons of my life. I felt completely natural and at ease, a girlfriend with her girlfriend, doing silly, girlfriend things.
That’s the sort of goofy stuff Carson and I did.
She was one of the first people I told I was transgender (a good story, but not one for this moment). She was fiercely proud of me & woe unto anyone who misgendered me in front of her.
Two years later, Carson died suddenly, stupidly, & tragically. Her absence hit me very hard.
So that ring became a very important symbol to me. I wore it all the time, everywhere. But because it was this crappy, cheap alloy, it began to get bent out of shape. My cousin’s a jeweler, so I asked him if he might be able to fix it for me.
He pointed out that the rings twin properties of crappiness and cheapness would mean it would be difficult to do that, and also that it would inevitably get knocked out of shape again.
So I wore the ring, and had to make allowances for it, tugging it into gloves, carefully extracting it from sweater sleeves as I dressed, and constantly turning it with my thumb as the symbol slipped off to the side.
Except this time, the ring wasn’t there.
I pulled over, my car at the very far edge of the on ramp to the interstate from the rest stop, a good quarter-mile from where I had parked. I searched around my seat, in my jacket pockets, in my purse, but it was nowhere to be found.
I thought back to the last time I saw it, in the rest room washing my hands. Did I take it off back there? No.
In my heart I knew where it was. I didn’t want it to be there, I didn’t want to do what I'd have to do to get it. Plus if I did this, I would make myself late again.
I sat there, debating whether I should just put the car in drive and forget about the cheap ring. I cursed, slammed into reverse, and backed up into the rest stop.
I checked everywhere I'd been, but I didn’t see it and I knew I wouldn’t. I sighed and went over to the garbage can.
It was one of those industrial public-space cans with the big heavy lid with the big heavy swinging door that you had to push open to drop trash into the can. I vaguely remembered feeling a strange tug as I emptied out my car’s waste container. I opened the lid, & peered inside.
I saw something glitter in my phone’s light. I reached in, gingerly feeling for it. It dropped deeper into the garbage.
This cheap ring wasn’t worth it. Not worth the time. Not worth me digging through fast food, leaky cups and who knows what else. I turned back to the car.
And turned back to the can and ripped the lid off.
I chased the stupid ring all the way down the stupid garbage can. I shucked my jacket, pushed up my sleeves and dumpster dove until I got hold of the damned thing. At some point I realized I was weeping.
I was furious.
Furious that I was doing this for a stupid ring. Furious that the stupid ring was my last tangible link to my dead friend.
I pulled out the ring, put the lid back on, & went inside to wash, hoping no one took my jacket, which I wasn’t gonna touch with my ketchup-covered fingers.
Once I was satisfied I had washed enough, I got the jacket, got into my car, and got on the road, holding the ring in my hand, not sure of what to do with it. Eventually I put it on my finger, but I got scared of what would happen to it if I kept it there.
Shortly after I got home, I took it off and put it on my desk, where I would stare at it every day, occasionally put it on, and then take it off again.
Back in July, I did some standup comedy for friends of mine who are both comics as well as foodies.
When I got there, I sat down to eat dinner with Chris, one of the co-hosts, who immediately got up to run around and do event producer stuff, leaving me with a man I had never met. His name was Adrian & it turned out he’s like one of the more legendary tattoo artists in the area.
I didn’t know that, but he didn’t know he was eating dinner with one of the more legendary transgender storyteller/standup comedians in the area either, so it worked out.
During the meal, I told him that the reason I didn’t have any tattoos was because I could never think of anything I would want to see on my body for the rest of my life. “Well,” he said, “if you ever do come up with something, be sure to let me know.” I told him I would.
It took about a month and a half for me to make the connection, and about a month and a half to get in to see him, which was this afternoon.
It’s a silly little thing, but then again, so was my friend Carson. I miss her terribly, but now I have the reminder of our friendship in a way that will not go away. It’s not the same as having her here, but it will have to do.

• • •

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More from @sterling_penny

2 Jan
I’m having a hard time processing this. I have been, on numerous occasions, very close to fainting *and just ignored it.*
I have such poor communication skills with my body and I am certain it comes from having a father who considered acknowledging pain to be a feminine trait.
This was a man who had a finger chopped off and was back at work 2 hours later.
Who used to climb into machines carrying molten glass around to make adjustments on the fly.
Who ignored chest pain because he wanted to play a pickup game of volleyball at 52 and died.
I keep on trying to put that sad man’s toxic view of masculinity as far away from me as possible but goddamned if it hasn’t popped up yet again.
How many disasters have I missed out of pure bullshit luck because I couldn’t connect losing vision with losing consciousness?
Read 6 tweets
1 Jan
I've seen a lot of people talking about Betty White & Arthur Duncan, but what I don't see is the awareness that the reason Betty was able to continue to feature the Black tap-dancer on her show is because she was also the producer of the show. That didn't happen.
I believe Betty White was the first woman to produce a television show. That was some serious effort on her part to get enough control that she, an unmarried, 30-something woman, could create a successful TV show.
And it WAS successful. Very much so. Until Arthur Duncan.
When she defied people and kept putting a Black tap dancer on her show, the network cancelled her.
Do you think that Betty didn't know that this was a probability when she made that decision?
Read 5 tweets
1 Jan
Has anyone here ever actually fainted? I think that's what I did. I always thought fainting involved going unconscious. This was much more of an out-of-body experience.
I was trying to make it to my bedroom, when the nausea got real bad. I braced myself, and closed my eyes.
Suddenly I was aware that my body wasn't in an upright position anymore, and I had a really dissociated reaction to it. Sort of like "oh, we're doing THIS now." Then I stopped moving, and there was something cool on my face.
"This is better," I thought. And it was for a while, until I began to realize there were parts of my body that were uncomfortable. I opened my eyes and it took a moment to recognize that I was staring at the floor.
Read 5 tweets
10 Aug 21
This thread will be talking about body issues, weight and exercise and their impact on my life. I know that many people are triggered by these things, so it's my hope that those who have issues reading about them can pass this thread by.
10 years ago today, I weighed 176 pounds. On August 20, 2011, I weighed 173.5 pounds at 4am. I wanted to carry the least amount of weight possible up Mt. Washington, NH. I'm sure I weighed a pound or two lighter when I got to the top, but there wasn't a scale for me to stand on. Image of Penny, pre-transition, on her bicycle, on a steep r
Not that I could stand. I had just ridden 7.6 miles, all uphill, most of it crazy steep. It took me 2 hours and 20 minutes, which was about 20 minutes longer than I had hoped for.
I actually have a ghost story about my ride. Maybe I'll share it sometime. But not today. A screen shot of the top of the Mt Washington Auto Road Bicy
Read 16 tweets
9 Aug 21
I have two responses to this. I have no idea how long it will take me to express them.
The first is to the folks who do this, parent-to-parent:
How dare you? How dare you put your own views, fears & beliefs above the welfare of your child? You're not protecting or helping them.
You are torturing them, because their reality makes you uncomfortable.
Too bad.
The absolute worst thing you can do as a parent is to make parenting about yourself. Nothing involved with raising a child should be about you.
If you have a gender diverse child it's your responsibility to educate yourself about gender diversity. Which means listening to EVERYBODY about this issue, not just to the few who will validate and amplify your fears.
It also means listening to--and believing--your child.
Read 19 tweets
11 Apr 21
1. People are dropping Robert Moses on this tweet like he's the only racist road builder out there. I'd say Mayor Pete underselling when he says "SOME of our highways." Moses may have been the LeBron of racist infastructure, but he was not the only player.
Here's a little 🧵.
2. First, be aware that the Eisenhower Interstate System had ulterior motives built into it. Yeah, it was great for moving commercial goods from Tucson to Tucumcari. Of course it made it easier for us to See the USA in our Chevrolets, but it also it was great for moving rockets.
The minimum bridge height for clearing Interstates is 16' (4.9 m), not only for the road, but for both shoulders, and a little more. Because a missile on a trailer's height is about 14'. The interstate gave the military a very easy way to move munitions where they wanted.
Read 25 tweets

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