I hope you’ll all join me in wishing big birthday love to my Uncle Tiresias, lately of the intersection of Clothesline and Trashpile. No one knows his real age (but we have some ideas*) and those ideas involve a long, long youth.
Uncle Ti hasn’t always had an easy life. He’s blind, for one thing, and a treatment given to him as a child to try to undo certain chemical** damage to his retinas made him able to understand the speech of birds. He stayed blind, though. I asked him what birds say, and he told me it generally goes like this:
BIRD #1: Whatta ya doin whatta ya doin whatta ya doin.
BIRD #2: CAT.
BIRD #3: I know I left the iron on. I just know it. I know I left the . . . CAT.
BIRD #1: Whatta ya doing whatta ya doin whatta ya doin.
BIRD #2: CAT.
He calls this a ‘bird meeting.’ When I ask him what they accomplish at these meetings? He says they form committees, hold elections, and consider applying for grants but never do. Often Uncle Ti owns a bird or two and keeps them in an old wooden cage. I was going to use a photograph of him holding his birdcage, which he likes to take out for air, but I was afraid he would discover AGAIN that the birds were gone because half of the cage has got the powder beetles. He hasn’t had a bird last longer than 45 seconds in there for years now, and I just keep replacing them.
So . . . I guess I said he was blind but also – this was TOTALLY out of the blue – ten years ago he announced to his WIFE that really he had been a WOMAN INSIDE SINCE HE WAS BORN. He couldn’t live the lie anymore, and I felt awful for Aunt Wanda but mostly I had a grizzly feeling in my stomach about where my favorite Victoria’s Secret Control Tops had been going. I’m going to skip the details but eventually he went through the whole process: he lived as a woman for a year, he took hormones, he went to therapy, and then dagnabbit if we didn’t all get in the truck and drive to Mexico and get it done.
Aunt Tyrese was sweet as a peach, and she and Wanda got on like a house a’fire. They joined a bowling league through the GLBTI community, they played softball, they got a couple goats and made cheese, they talked about adopting from a foreign country. I don’t know what they put in that surgery, but those two never fought again over the remote control, the dishes, the toilet seat, or the Super Bowl. It was like a miracle. Then seven years after the surgery, Aunt Tyrese announces that she has always been a man, since she was born. And we were all like for the sake of sense, Ty. But we loaded up the truck and I put some frozen birds in the bird cage and set it in the back and wouldn’t you know, THEY BLEW OUT, and we went on to Mexico, and the doctors went flip flip roll, basically they just went backwards and we left and Uncle Tiresias was back.
He couldn’t get his job back at the co-op so he became a prostitute, and that put a little strain on him and Wanda, but the money was pretty good, and then he began to feel the multiply-gendered regret strain, because SADLY it turns out that women experience ten times the amount of . . . . pleasure as men which had he known it he might have not made the flip and roll, forgive me. He got kicked off the bowling league, the softball team. He was shunned at Ultimate Frisbee. Well, then he got it in his mind to handle snakes, and I was like, “Uncle Ti? You may be a man again but you are still BLIND.”
I just took his birthday picture and I told him I’d brought two of his favorite king snakes with us. I said they were right there, right by his feet! He asked if I’d remembered the birds and I said that the last two were at a meeting. “A meeting,” he said, nodding. “Were they the little yellow pro-lifers or the blue jays who are calling for the genocide of all other creatures?” I told him it was the pro-lifers because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DOES IT MATTER ANYMORE, UNCLE TIRESIAS? GOD! HAPPY BIRTHDAY! DRESS LIKE A HOBO MUCH? IS THAT MY WONDERBRA?!
*He has had extensive cosmetic surgery, but he swears only behind his knees.
**Leaded gasoline, which he likes to believe is a ‘chemical,’ when really it’s just a liquid.