Coming Out: Quarter Horses and Sewing Machines


Quarter horse and sewing machines

Jane Hale

‘Cause when you’re done with this world,

You know what happens next is up to you.

– John Mayer, “Walt Grace’s Underwater Test.”


It was that blue hour of a late winter afternoon. I had traveled snowy trails on a quarter horse named Scooter. We reached a clearing at the top of a hill, and between the frayed trees, a few stars were already twinkling in the darkening sky. I could see in the distance, about five miles to the north, the little town of Roslyn nestled like a nest of lights in the dark foothills of the Cascades.

I had been there the night before in Roslyn, drinking with friends and listening to live music at the local bar, The Brick, Washington State’s oldest operating tavern. Now, sitting astride Scooter on that hill, in my mind I heard again the buzz and clank of the bar crowd from last night and the raucous music of the band – the thud of the bass, the beat of the drums, the whine and bleat of electric guitars.

Eager for my daydreams, Scooter chuckled to break the silence out of my head and get us moving. It reminded me of the horse in Robert Frost’s most famous poem.

He shakes the bells from his harness

To ask if there is an error.

The only other sound is the sweep

Of easy wind and soft flakes.

It was colder outside. I flipped Scooter on the trail to the house.


The word dysphoria means a deep state of uneasiness. Unease, if you will. It comes from two Greek words: dys, which means “difficult”, as in dysfunctional, something that has trouble functioning. And pherein, meaning “to carry,” which is cognate with the Old English word iron, as in words like transfer (to carry across), ferry (to carry over water), and Lucifer, the bringer of celestial light before moving rebel and get the celestial boot.

Together, therefore, dys and pherein mean difficult to bear, like a great weight, a burden. Dysphoria.

I had never experienced gender dysphoria myself; I had problems, of course, but they were never so acute that they made it difficult for me to function. As I noted in the opening salvo of this column in February, I was a fairly successful man for 69 years.

With a challenging career, I enjoyed most of the time; with five children whom I loved raising; and with my own company teaching popular “Writing for the Workplace” seminars, I was always busy.

I had gender issues, but never had much time for them. Other satisfactions and dissatisfactions came first.

So I never felt an overwhelming sense of dysphoria.

So far.


I am learning to sew. A good friend is teaching me how, and it’s wonderful. I always wanted to learn. Years ago, I gave my daughter a sewing machine for Christmas, and we spent all day learning how to use it. It was more fun than I had had on Christmas Day in a long time.

So I immerse myself. I make a dress, pinning, cutting, pinning again, sewing, pinning again, ironing, sewing again, all under the watchful tutelage of my friend. My God, the sheer thrill of this one.

Since starting the hormones my fingers have become hypersensitive and I find myself savoring the warp and weft of linen, the smooth and the rough slipping through my fingers as I guide the fabric under the hum of the needle. of the machine.

At the end of the day, when I was done and sewed the last stitches, I felt the same exhilaration I used to feel after riding a scooter. At that time, I couldn’t afford a saddle, so I always rode bareback, which requires the most intense focus and concentration to not fall.

Learning to sew my straight seams required the same concentration, and when I was done, I felt no less euphoric and elated sitting there in front of that sewing machine than I had experienced while riding a scooter in the hills of the central Washington.

Then I put on the dress.


More etymology, because I know you like it: the word mirror comes from the Latin mirare, to marvel. Slipping the finished dress over my head, I stood there in front of the mirror, as stunned as Narcissus had once been. It’s me, me in a dress, a dress I made.

A torrent of adjectives flooded my mind. Silly, incongruous, disturbing, playful. Insane, ridiculous, beautiful, funny. I shifted my hips and watched the fabric ripple around me like waves.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong: it was not the expansive grandeur of a “new” continent that made it commensurate with our capacity for wonder. It’s our passion to jump in, to surrender to that state of wonder, to immerse ourselves in total surrender, and to see for the first time what has always been there.

It is this marvel that I have never ceased to hunt wherever I can find it, from the Pribilofs to Paris; from the urban lanes of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to the wintry foothills of the Cascades; in old paintings and older poetry; in music and noise and children; on horseback or at the sewing machine in a friend’s dining room.


But now the pendulum of my emotions is swinging the other way and I’m collapsing. After the rush of euphoria learning to sew, I feel a little tender and experience gender dysphoria for the first time – the burden of carrying a man I’m not. Nor a woman either.

• Jane Hale lives in Juneau with her partner and their two dogs.


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