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December 23, 2012

I spent hours Saturday morning, puzzling over a long involved dream I’d had. I don’t feel confident I figured it out enough, and the imagery and emotions have stayed with me, so perhaps writing about it will help.

I was attending a conference in a city I’d never been to before. The first day, I found my way to the first session. My troubles began at lunchtime. I went looking for someplace to eat.

I have no idea what it was a conference for. But there were hundreds, if not thousands, of people in attendance. (In waking life, I’ve never attended a conference that big.) The site wasn’t just a convention center, it was a mall the size of a small town. And apparently all the sessions let out for lunch at the same time, so that the corridors seethed with humanity.

For some reason, there were two tracks of sessions, segregated by gender, women and men. So within those rivers of people there were two currents: women all streaming to my right; men, to my left.

Everyone knew exactly where they were going. Even though there were no signs or maps anywhere.

Information packets had apparently been mailed ahead of time. I had a vague recollection of having received one, back home, but hadn’t looked at it very carefully. (And then forgot to bring it with me.)

Every place I tried to get food was packed, and the time available was diminishing quickly. I needed to go back to the room of session 1 because . . . I’d left ‘stuff’ there. (Although not my money or ID.) Maybe a pen and paper? Somehow it seemed really really important that I return to that room. Except that, with no signs or maps, I had literally no idea where to go. Everyone was in such a hurry, it was hard to find anyone to ask directions of, but I did try anyway. I asked 2 men, walking together. One of them insulted me for being so stupid about not knowing my place. And then didn’t give me directions.

Like most conferences I’ve ever attended, I didn’t know anyone there. But I found a woman who seemed friendly, and we agreed to meet for lunch. I grabbed a seat, after finding only bread to eat, the cafeteria having been mostly cleared out by the time I found it. This woman showed up at my table with 3 companions, and full trays of food. She ignored me to talk to her friends.

Later, I was somehow driving my car, with a passenger, and asking that person how to get back to the conference. Even then, I was confused how I could have my own car there, if I didn’t know where I was, or how I got there.

I woke up, and I was utterly mystified about why it was so important to return to the room of session 1. I hadn’t left anything essential there. No one would have noted my absence because I didn’t know a soul there. The people I did meet were rude and unfriendly. I wasn’t learning anything.

I felt overwhelming anxiety, almost panic, though, about getting back.

Especially weird — there was one person I recognize from waking life, a woman police officer who patrols our supermarket. (I had seen her 2 nights before, off duty, out to dinner.)

Every time I think of the dream, it’s that woman I see first. I don’t know her name; I’ve never spoken with her.


The women in the dream that I saw all wore plain, practical clothing; none were ‘dressed up’, nor even just wearing something interesting. None of them were physically beautiful. No one looked glamorous.

Some of the men were a different story. In a wide hallway, 3 men in glittery costumes swaggered through, apparently on their way to a performance of some sort. The man I asked for directions looked like, and was dressed like, Truman Capote. But otherwise, the men were mostly dressed in a nondescript way as well.

No one that I saw seemed to be transgender or otherwise nonbinary.

I don’t know what I was wearing (but I’m guessing it was interesting, because I always do ‘dress up’, at least in something colorful, for a conference).


The emotions evoked by the dream were complex and multi-layered so there seems more to it than simply an issue with my gender identity. But I don’t know what else it could be.

I will be attending a conference-y thing out of state next year, in a place I’ve never been before. But it’s a small area, not populous. And I’m excited about going (I’m not apprehensive).

Beyond that, I’m more comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity than many people I know. Maybe, in an odd way, that is the issue? In the dream, there were exactly 2 ways to do things: women’s way, and men’s way. Everyone was so certain, there was no need for signs or maps. There were no grey areas, no liminal spaces, no unorthodoxy.

There wasn’t any way for me to be me. I was profoundly out of place there.


I recently read Evelyn Fox Keller’s book about biologist Barbara McClintock, A Feeling for the Organism. I feel heartened by her example, as a woman with odd ideas about a lot of things, who was eventually vindicated, but maybe she didn’t care by then. In any case, as presented by Dr. Keller, I’m guessing Dr. McClintock preferred hanging out with her corn plants to spending time with most human beings.

I can’t be what she was, because I don’t have a Ph.D., and I’m not ever going to have one. I’m not a scientist anymore.

I don’t know what to call what I am now, or what I’m becoming. But I do know I’m not following a path laid out by someone else.

I’m afraid. But I’ve been seeking out physical ways of confronting tangible fears.

  • I’ve gone hiking by myself (my internalized Mrs. Nocerino: “you could fall and twist your ankle! or worse! you don’t have a cell phone – how would anyone find you?! don’t be stupid!”).
  • For 18 months, I’d felt drawn to walking in the woods at night, but was too terrified to try it. 17 nights ago, I took the plunge. I was afraid pretty much every step of the way. As time passed, and ‘nothing’ happened, I wondered if I would feel braver, but I did not. Still, I kept going. I stayed ‘in the moment’ through all of those scary moments. I’ve done it twice more since then. It’s scary in a different way, but now it’s even more compelling than before. I find myself thinking about doing it again at odd times. Now I almost feel like I enjoy doing it ‘too much’.
  • I’ve never travelled solo, for pleasure. But I will be doing that next year. Something I’ve been dreaming about . . . all my life.

Even if I wanted to ‘go back’ to who I used to be (I don’t), I don’t think I could. Maybe the dream was encouraging me to hold fast to my own ways of navigating.


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