A dear young friend of mine with whom I have formed a connection was writing in his Facebook status the other evening about a change in his present living situation and he mentioned a few possibilities to tide him over until he found suitable quarters for the next year.
He said something that struck me to my core. What he said was “My being is very open and excited to live outside the box.” Why it struck me so, was that I have been living with this idea of living outside the box ever since I graduated from college. The biggest thing on my mind as I graduated from college, was the possibility of being drafted into the US Army, a prospect that scared me to death.
The United States was then embroiled, in what started out as a peace-keeping mission during the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, which escalated into a War of sorts and literally began to tear our nation apart just like the US Civil War had done, one hundred years before. There are a lot of similarities I could mention between those two conflicts a century apart, but I’ll stop there.
So here I was at a major turning point in my life. I was facing the prospect of being drafted with the additional possibility of getting killed in action and I responded to it by completely shutting down. I would live with my parents for another year getting up late, watching TV all day, and then go to bed in the wee hours of the morning, to do it again day after day. Since that time, I have often blamed my parents for their enabling me to not take responsibility for my future. I supposed that in time, they thought I would get over it, especially after my fear of being drafted didn’t materialize by a quirk of fate.
It so happened that just as my college deferment changed my status from 1-S to 1-A, meaning that I was classified to be able to be drafted, then President Nixon ordered draft boards to stop drafting the young men whose lottery number had been passed. In fact, the Draft Boards of men and women volunteers stopped meeting each month to go through the list of eligible draftees and send out draft notices nor would they accept requests from guys like me who petitioned the Boards to hold off drafting temporarily or hopefully permanently to review our applications to be classified as a Conscientious Objector to serving in combat to harm or kill another human being.
This temporary hiatus which lasted until the following March, allowed me and about ten thousand other young men to avoid being called up because the Draft Law read that any man who had been deferred as college undergrads from the draft would have an additional three months of vulnerability if their lottery number had passed, as mine had. Those three months meant January to March of the following year, and now that time had passed. In other words, I would not get my day in court to demonstrate my conviction. It also reinforced the idea in me that I had since I was about five or six, that I lived a charmed life. I was off the hook from growing up to be the man I refused to be, as in the recruitment motto “The United States Army builds men.”
After the year was over, in the Spring of 1972, an opportunity to again shirk my duty to grow up arose when my sister came home from college on Spring break and she brought with her two of her former roommates. She also brought with her some LSD, Lysergic acid diethylamide, the drug of choice in the era which Timothy Leary summed up as the“Turn on, tune in, drop out” generation By the way, I have been revisiting that area of my life in the context of being a transgender girl/woman which I have already addressed in another previous post but may revisit again.
Soon after that acid trip and my sister and her friends returned to college to finish the semester, I would decide to hitchhike to her college and live in the girls co-op as the only man, to live as one of the girls until the semester ended. When the semester ended we would spend the summer moving about to find work and dropping acid when we could and at the end of that summer, I took my sister’s place in a cooperative housing arrangement just off campus where I lived on and off for another two and a half years. That time period of indecision is a good topic for another post.
So now, what has all this got to do with my original thesis about “living outside the box?” That phrase sums up my whole adult life up until I finally took responsibility for my being a transgender woman instead of the man I pretended to be and doing something to correct that “birth defect.” I didn’t follow the usual course of a career and life that was expected of me as a man except to get married, father a child, and live off my beloved wife’s self-made business career as a Bookkeeper/Accountant. Of course, now that my parents and she are gone, I am on my own to sink or swim.
I did work now and then, but had long periods of unemployment in-between jobs sometimes lasting for six month or more.. I later would judge that my whole non-career was about living outside the box, or so I once thought. To me, living outside the box meant that I did it my way, like in the Frank Sinatra song, instead of following that route in life where I am born, grow up to earn a living, working myrself to death in a meaningless career over some scraps that the corporate world throws your way in the form of a paycheck and benefits, and then retire and live until I die.
Amazingly enough, throughout my life, I was actually looked up to by others who found themselves trapped in a box of their own making. I, on the other hand, believed that I just let life happen to me because, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was pissed that I had been born male and was being forced to grow up to be a man.
Again getting back to my original thesis about living outside the box, I pointed out to my young friend was that living outside of the box requires that I take an active role in co-creating what I need and want from life instead of relying on others to give me their scraps, as in my illustration of the mundane life. He had talked about finding at least a temporary communal living situation so I said to him, while a communal living situation sounded wonderful, (I had tried that route myself soon after my acid trip mentioned before) I believe one needs to play a pro-active role in sharing more than the chores of everyday living for a place to sleep and something to eat.. I went on to say that’s what the homeless do to pretend to be willing to offer work in exchange for food, because they don’t expect anyone will actually take them up on it, in exchange for a handout.
I went on to say that true service doesn’t mean making sacrifices for others at the cost of my own self-identity, like bees in a hive with the “hive mentality.” It requires a commitment to engage in the conversation of creating a community for myself to get what I need and want by assisting others to get what they need and want. It means that instead of simply resigning myself to a life of drudgery to serve the wants and needs of “the man”, unless I am willing to take the risks that come from traveling into unknown territory, without a map or compass to guide me. That to me is what I believe “living outside the box” is really all about.
Peace sisters and brothers,