Orwell’s dramatic book of the future is truly a tragic daydream.
My future derives from a similar journey, not a frightful one.
It all began with my birth. My mother, Rose, was disappointed that she birthed a male child—as documented by my birth certificate. My first photograph showed me as a three-year-old child in the driveway dressed in a skirt.
Rose used terms of endearment that had a feminine flavor. Etymologically, the “ie” suffix for boy’s names gave the feeling that the boy was childish, less male, or even nongender. My first picture in the local newspaper identifies me as Dickie Kagan, a helpless child on a tricycle who was kidnapped.
I am now only piecing together the meaning and significance of her most common term of endearment—Dicksala. I am not sure of its origin, but I have long daydreamed about its influence. The suffix “sala” is based on the Hebrew and Yiddish way to emphasize the femineity of a name. “Sala” is also a derivative of the name “Sarah.” From my study of the Holocaust, I learned that “Sarah” was the name Nazis used for all Jewish females. This discovery increased my sense of identifying with my feminine side.
I have spent time daydreaming about my birth name vs. my nickname. It has led me down a path that I have been bequeathed a second nature. I have turned this feeling into searching for my dual identity.
In high school, I learned to dance with a male friend. In my parent’s living room, we listened to music while holding each other—sharing the male and female roles. The New Yorker dance supplied the excitement and pleasures of twirling, balancing, and embracing. Consequently, I became an excellent dancing partner at parties who understood both the male and female roles. Unfortunately, perhaps, I never adapted to the modern individualism of dancing as a form of gymnastics.
Rejection of the binary male-female division fosters identity with women, gays, lesbians, and trans people. My students, both male and female, have often celebrated me as a father figure. Often there was a family-like relationship. Several times I roomed with a former student in her apartment in Taiwan. During those times, I cleaned the house and helped with food preparations. Years later, my daughter stayed with her. My former student told my daughter that I was a great roommate.
In my research, I have had empathy for abused women, especially for prostitutes. For instance, I discovered that Thai prostitutes fled from their oppressive families in rural areas to the city where they formed a bond with other prostitutes in the brothels. Here, they lived with other women, learning skills like sewing or knitting between their pecuniary employments. They often became literate which led to confidence and freedom to engage in other occupations.
While teaching about the Japanese comfort women during WW2 who were kidnapped into prostitution for the military, I organized specific activities to promote understanding and consciousness of their plight. After the war, Comfort Women published poetry and stories about their dehumanization. These memoirs expressed exceptional aesthetic sense and strategies for self-preservation. We read them aloud. I felt that this pedagogy was an excellent substitute for a historical narrative, as well as a means to promote empathy and sensitivity. I tried to teach my students to learn from these heroic achievements to survive with honor and health. The moral: out of the darkness, there can be light.
In my sparse subbing as a Japanese language instructor, I was required to teach a story about two foreigners—male and female—who learned to live and speak in Japan. The narrative was full of dialogue, as would be expected in a language class. The problem is that the pronunciation of the same word, or composition of the sentence changes according to the male or female speaker. For instance, after WW2, American soldiers and government officials learned Japanese from their female language teachers. Behind their backs, the Japanese would laugh because they sounded like women. So, I invited a female Japanese speaker to teach the students how women would read female dialogues. I read the male and she read the female dialogues with differing tones and added expressions.
In sum, Orwell’s thirteenth hour invites me to spend time daydreaming into the realm of a complementary identity.