I woke up at the Air BnB soaked in my own drool. I knew that once I left bed, an onslaught of cameras would be around me, filming my preparations before a day of skating. I didn’t know whether I should open the door and put on a show or act like it was the worst day of my life- I was sure they would have been happy with either. I heard the shuffling of camera equipment around my door. My mouth was drier than a desert, smacking my lips together I wondered how they didn’t just stay closed.
Since my fever broke at probably the best time it could have, I had a happier demeanor than I did in the previous days. However, my stomach churned into itself. I read online that Giardia can have an affect on how your body reacts to certain foods, namely dairy. I had already been feeling the wretched turmoil in my body from all of the pizza I had been eating (especially in Chicago), so I decided that from that point on, I would avoid it as often as I could. Naturally I didn’t have any food at the AirBnB, but since all three of us wanted to eat I had to keep it in mind.
Maria was super stoked on getting shots of me putting on my eyeliner. I was on board, but as far as my “getting ready” sequence went, I would have normally done it naked. They assured me they wanted me in my “raw form,” so I spent most of it naked and honestly I doubted whether they would do the shots. I had no quips about my naked body. I am strong, effeminate, and unashamed of everything I had to offer.
Looking outside, it was raining. I should have expected it. It hadn’t rained on me since I started, and this was the day I had to go out there. If Buzzfeed wasn’t there I wasn’t sure if I’d be in Chicago at all, but I definitely wouldn’t have skated. This made preparations more difficult. I had to organize my things in a way that wouldn’t get them wet, and with my phone being on the fritz since I dropped it in the tub in Oregon, I wasn’t willing to risk it. Branson took extra time to film all of the contents of my bag, which only slightly annoyed me originally because I had to repack it all, but it wasn’t such a big deal. The biggest issue was that when they repacked a few things for me, they deposited my new bearings into my endurance fuel powder, and it ruined all of my backup bearings (and the fuel). Since it had been so long since I last changed them, I knew this was going to be an issue for me.
We left the AirBnB and I was reminded why things went south CNN. I hated filming. I hated repeating myself, doing the same things over and over for a shot. I detested being in the rain, being soaking wet, and going through what I didn’t want to do. I could have spent all day in bed. My shoes were soaked on the first few pushes. I plotted out a route that would let them get some shots of me, but since I had taken over completely the plan for the day, I felt like I had to really appeal to them. With CNN it was different- they followed me and whatever I chose to do was what was being done. This time, I had to make room for good shots and find a way for it work. It was slightly different aspects of being in control of how and where I was being filmed- CNN was both easier and more difficult simultaneously, and Buzzfeed was mostly chaos. All in all, it could have been worse- they were feeding me, sheltering me, and driving me all the same.
I skated to Lake Michigan- it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as it was the days before because of the rain. Construction was everywhere and there was a general “ugh” feeling running through my body. At that point, I didn’t know what Buzzfeed wanted. Branson had talked about getting us an AirBnB in Indiana, outside of Valparaiso. It was a nudist colony, but shut down for the winter. I was interested in exploring a nudist colony and taking part. I found that while everybody on the outside thinks nudists are weird, they are actually the kindest people in the world. We had to decide where we were going and how we were going to get there. I exclaimed that if they weren’t there, I would be skating to the National Park along the lake, about 60 miles from Chicago, to camp out. It was situated on a massive dune, but not as large as the ones in Bruneau, Idaho. So we set our sights for that.
Getting out of Chicago was a task. There were tolls for cars, traffic was bad, and rain made it worse. Every so often they made me get out of the car on roads I never would have skated so they could get a shot. I really hated that. Especially the parts where I had to put my backpack on…it all felt…fake to me. If there was a way to just fly a drone around me 24/7, I would have preferred that. Mostly, however, my apathy about the situation stemmed from the weather. Nobody likes getting wet, especially when it’s cold. We drove up and down this small street that had no access to the public- I wanted to skate across the cycling bridge that divided Illinois and Indiana, but Buzzfeed wasn’t interested in that shot. Instead, I skated through a small town.
I thought a lot about what Maria, Branson and I talked about over pizza dinner the night before. Maria had asked the question, “If you were doomed to be stranded on an island entirely isolated and by yourself forever, would you still transition?” My response was no. My response was mostly based on the fact that transitioning is something that A) is medically done, and B) is dependent on being raised in a gendered society. My general surmise was that without society, gender is null and void. I would still piss out of a dick regardless of being on an island, and though I would still experience dysphoria, there wouldn’t be much I could do about it. Being apathetic about the situation as a response to needing to fend for myself in order to live is better than nothing. To me, I just couldn’t picture myself asking a coconut to call me “she.” The discussion differed when Branson had an altering opinion as a non-binary person. We never really found a middle ground. I wondered, as we spent the rest our of day together (with another day due), if that discussion had changed anything about our relationship we were forming. I supposed that in general, to me, gender was a useless topic. Yes I am transgender, but I am so much more than that. My gender never defined my success nor who I am. So, on an island in the middle of nowhere, my portrayal of myself would be essentially moot.
I really wanted to go to Gary, Indiana. Of course, I had no idea it was truly the barren urban desolate crime-riddled ghetto that it was, I only knew it was Michael Jackson’s birthplace and also the subject of a song in The Sound of Music. I kept singing, “Gary, Indiana Gary, Indiana Gary, Indiana” in my head. It sounded much sweeter through song. Buzzfeed didn’t want to go, and we skipped it. After some filming and a lunch, we made haste for the dune because the sun was going to set.
The dune was nice, but setting up my tent to only get a shot of the sunset with it seemed like a waste of time. Their camera battery died mid-shot and I was upset about it. I hated that they weren’t fully prepared, but in retrospect we DID do a ton of filming. My attitude stemmed from me ALWAYS being prepared (except for the time I wasn’t and got a river parasite.) I was resilient and learned to adapt, and we were in a situation where neither of those traits were useful. I got sand in my tent which also bothered me. In fact, where we set my tent up was probably not somewhere I’d set my tent up at all. Regardless, the view of the water and sunset was to die for.
In the moment of sunset, I felt truly grateful for the opportunity ahead of me. I had made so many friends that got me to exactly where I was at that moment, seen so much, and overcame an onslaught of trouble to get there. To be anything less than grateful would be a tragedy. Sure, I was showing a poor attitude, but inside I was warm from my experiences. We let the sun set, and made our move for the nudist colony. Maria had to leave us, and wasn’t going to be sharing the nudist colony home Branson had secured for us. We were pressed for time – she had to get back to Chicago to catch a flight, and was going to Uber there.
We put our things in the Air BnB, a gated community house that was home to a handful of affluent nudists. We were made aware that none of the commodities would be made available to us, and I was disappointed that the host didn’t show up naked. Of course, it was cold, so I took it with a grain of salt. The home had decorations of naked people everywhere, a single king sized bed (which i would share with Branson), and lots of suggestive material around the house encouraging us to get naked. I was all for it- I had taken my top off immediately. Branson’s hesitation to join me forced me to keep my bottoms on.
Once Maria got picked up, hunger struck. Out in the small town of Valparaiso, we were limited in options, and with them being a vegan it became especially difficult. I would have been fine with getting a burger and going to bed, but instead we headed to a co-op grocery store that didn’t really have much to offer. I picked out a few things that I would have liked (and found my favorite chips- Paqui’s Ghost Pepper Chips), but Branson was at a loss. We decided not to cook food but instead to venture into the town center and see what was around.
We were blown away at the town. It was obviously a very rich, white town with a local college situated within it. The streets were lined with brick and every business had matching signage. A few things caught my eye- a gourmet pretzel shop, a cupcake eatery, and a cidery. Three places that would never survive if not backed by rich town investors. I contemplated how any of them could maintain their utilities, never mind their rent. In Indiana, it was just us, two people living in the trans umbrella, meddling around in an affluent white, conservative town. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. Of course, Branson was much more involved in the queer spaces of things, while I tended to focus on different things.
We popped into the Aftermath Cidery and Winery first. We both got custom sampling flights of their flavors, and I was impressed. I never drink cider because of the sugar content (Hello, hangover!), but I did it this time for the experience. I had never been to a cidery before. There I met Meira, who was very good at her job and a great personality- she helped me pick out all the right flavors. Branson and I shared a conversation as we drank, me obviously downing the drinks like shots as they sipped and contemplated the flavoring.
Disappointed that they didn’t have food, we moved on to the next business, which was a tiny, up-scale, mediterranean restaurant. As soon as we walked in I knew we didn’t belong. I turned to leave, but Branson stayed an extra minute. It was a candle-lit dinner type of place, and I was very much not trying to do that. Instead we got pizza. The pizza place was a hole in the wall (as much as it could be), with extreme hipster vibes. Everything was named after something related to pop culture. It was cool, and Branson found a great vegan option. I like eating with vegans because they never want to eat what I get.
After pizza, we noticed there was a town ice rink that we could go skate in. I coughed up the money to do it- I couldn’t think of anything I would rather do more than ice skating. In my youth, I played hockey for years and ran a learn-to-skate program for young kids. If I wasn’t so repressed about my gender and sexuality I would have loved to be a figure skater. However, I knew I was going to wear hockey skates, because it was what I was used to. We waited in line, and the cashiers did everything in their power to not let us skate. They told us they were closing soon (30 minutes was plenty to get some ice time in), and they tried to tell me my card couldn’t be used. Someone else had to rustle through the bros in order to serve us correctly. Annoyed but still happy I got to skate, we laced up and headed out. I also asked about playing hockey, but they laid out a million reasons why they weren’t going to let me play. Unsure if it was my feminine appearance or because they didn’t want a stranger to play, I chalked up their annoying sexism and bigotry to ignorance.
I won’t lie- Branson was not the best skater. I jumped on the ice and started doing pirouettes immediately, dropping to my knees and admittedly showing off. Branson needed a hand to hold onto and a little direction, but I absolutely loved their effort in keeping up with me. I got the idea to do a “follow me” style type shot of us on the ice. At that moment, we both realized we literally were out on a date. It was funny to me- as two queer folk out on the ice in the whitest of conservative towns (Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana, remember?), we looked like either two gay guys or two gay girls. Everybody was staring at us. A few times I caught this kid getting awfully close to get a better look, and I did a psych-out move towards him to scare him off (It didn’t).
If I wasn’t such a great skater it might have been different. I threw hard brakes and jumped around like a fool showing off. I loved being on the ice. But if we were both bad skaters, they would have felt like there was more of an opportunity to laugh at us. My prowess on skates made me feel like I put up a barrier between them and us. Sure, they could poke fun at the tranny on skates, but she could shoot a goal and break your knees all day. I felt the same about skating. Lots of articles written about me had comments making fun of my gender, because that’s all they had to go on. I would whoop ass in downhill and long distance, regardless of gender, and nobody could make fun of me for that.
After skating, we headed back to the cidery. There, they comped my drinks and were hosting a game night. I had no interest in game night, but certainly loved free drinks. I threw back a couple glasses of alcoholic apple juice, made some friends, and we left. Getting drunk and partying wasn’t my prerogative – after that night I’d be alone once Branson left and forced to skate again. I couldn’t do it with a hangover. Back at the nudist colony, I was topless, and in bed rather quickly.
Branson and I talked about the nuances of gender, and I uploaded all of my files to their computer for use on the feature about me. I was mostly useless. There wasn’t much to do in the Air BnB besides sleep and have sex, and I had no intention of the latter. The bed was wildly comfortable and I was allowed to sprawl myself out completely. We fiddled with the A/C because the wood fireplace was making the room way too hot, and under the covers it was even worse. Eventually I passed out, unknowing if I even left room for Branson to sleep on their side of the bed.