31 July 2009

I Broke A Promise To Myself And I'm Happy

So today I broke a promise I made to myself. And I'm feeling good, if not righteous, about it.

I'd gone into SoHo to meet Bruce for lunch. I hadn't been in that part of town since a week or so before my surgery. Nothing had changed, it seemed, since the last time I was there, yet I felt that last visit was a lifetime ago.

Someone--I forget who--said that the only real changes are in ourselves. That feels right to me.

Anyway...In keeping with what one usually sees on Broadway near Spring Street on a summer day, young people--college students, mainly--were trying garner support for one cause or another from the streams of passerby who were interested mainly in shopping or lunch. On my way from the Broadway-Lafayette station to Bruce's office, I passed people who were canvassing for the ACLU, PETA and an alphabet-soup of other organizations.

Within a few steps on either side of the entrance to the building where Bruce works, canvassers were trying to get people to "support gay rights." They represented the Human Rights Campaign, which was near the top of my personal blacklist because, essentially, they sold out transgenders: The HRC's leadership decided that including protections for transgenders in the legislation they wanted the Federal government to enact would destroy any chance of the legislation passing. So they said, in essence, "Well, we'll throw the trannies under the bus if it'll get protections for G's and L's. "

The legislation didn't pass. So much for compromise.

But today, I saw three canvassers. Two were people I didn't expect to see canvassing for the HRC. One was a straight woman who told me she's interested in gay rights because she knows gay people. The other, though, was even more of a surprise.

She moved to New York a few months ago. I could tell, just by looking at her, that her road to a shared flat in Brooklyn was a hard one, and that her path her hasn't been much easier.

I could also tell something that, well, most people could tell: That she is a transgender who hadn't been living as female for very long, and who probably hadn't started to take hormones. She clearly didn't "pass," but I have no doubt that, in her heart and soul, she's a woman. After all, it takes one to know one, right?

Anyway, I let her tell me her story. Before coming here, she came out, and people--including family members, friends, co-workers and a supervisor--pretended to accept it more than they actually did. And they used it to manipulate and abuse her in various ways. Finally, she decided to come to New York "to start over" and encountered much of the same kind of hostility. She was essentially harassed out of a place where she worked; when she filed for unemployment insurance, the caseworker (Is that what the Department of Labor calls them?) called her former employer, who denied that there was any harassment. So, of course, she was denied benefits.

Finally, after much fruitless searching, she got her current job. It isn't easy, and I'm sure the pay isn't the greatest, but at least she's motivated to do the job. Some people--mostly men (whom, I suspect, were acting out their own insecurites)--called her names and said other hurtful things. But, she says, at least her current employer isn't treating her as her old one did.

So what promise did I break? Well, I told myself that I wouldn't talk about my own status except to people who already know about me. As happy as I am about my surgery, I won't tell everyone, even though I have the urge to. As for all those people who see me with a smile on my face: Some will smile back, some will resent me, and a few others will just wonder. I cherish the ones who smile back, and I enjoy letting other people wonder.

I told that young trans woman--and the other two HRC canvassers--about myself. They were supportive, even enthusiastic. And the young trans woman wanted to talk more to me. I was perfectly willing to listen.

I'd like to think that, if nothing else, she found me and my story encouraging. I don't know whether she plans on undegoing the surgery: I suspect that she wants it, but it will take her quite a while to get the money together. Of course, that's a situation I understand very well.

But I think that she was looking at me and thinking that, yes, the sort of life she envisions is possible. I shared some of the difficulties I encountered in coming to where I am. Some of those trials parallell her own; others, I think she could understand. But all of those difficulties are just that; they are not insurmountable. (Actually, for the next few weeks, a lot of things, including fences and my bicycle will be insurmountable for me. So would a "bottom," except that I don't want, and have never wanted to, be a "top!") At least, I hope she found the encouragement I'd like to think she found.

Another thing I sensed about her: She could use a very long, caressing hug. I was perfectly willing to give her that. Turns out, she's a really good hugger.

At least I didn't make any promises not to hug anyone I've known for less than half an hour.

30 July 2009

Three Articles of Memory

You know that you're very, very lucky--or that you haven't much of a social life--if you actually look forward to seeing your doctor.

When you're recovering from surgery, you don't get out much, to say the least. Even though you might spend lots of time on the phone, as I have been spending, you don't get to see very many people.

Anyway, I saw Dr. Jennifer again. She is very pleased with my progress, she says, and she wants me to return in two weeks for a follow-up. I'm looking forward to it.

As for the part about being lucky: I get to see Dr. Jennifer. I was mentored, and had my surgery done by Marci. I've talked to Mom and Millie every day, and to other people along the way.

And I am having these experiences at this point in my life, at this point in history. I was reminded of the latter when, after my visit with Dr. Jennifer, I walked around in the Village and stopped in the LGBT Community Center of New York.

It's no surprise that they're dedicated to celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. All around the Center were exhibits containing photos, other kinds of artwork and copies of newspaper articles related to the history of the gay-rights movement.

One of the articles, and a photograph that accompanied it, reminded me of something that Jay told me: There was once a law that stipulated that anyone wearing fewer than three articles of gender-appropriate clothing could be arrested.

So let's see...I was wearing a feminine-cut lavender tank top, a denim skirt and..uh, let's see...oh, yes, I am wearing a girly pair of panties. Although my flip-flops were also kind of girly-looking, I'm not sure that they'd count as "gender appropriate." And we don't want to take any chances now, do we?

Seriously...under that law, there were many days when I could've been arrested. Like when I wore a bra (without padding, of course), lace panties and a garter underneath my chinos and button-down shirt. Or when I wore panties underneath one of those one-piece lycra cycling bibs.

I guess that meant that cross-dressers wore undergarments "appropriate" to their gender. I confess, I did that a few times--like the times I went "in drag" for Halloween. You have to admit, it is kind of funny to be wearing boxer shorts and a wife-beater underneath a dress. At least I was never strip-searched.

But lots of people were. Jay remembers. It's amazing to think that within my lifetime, places like New York still had laws on the books that were remnants of the Victorian era. I've told my students that when I was nine years old, interracial marriage was still illegal in Virginia and other states.

It's even more amazing, though, to think of how we were when we were younger. For me, it's still a shock to think that a little more than three weeks ago, my body was different. Yet I cannot imagine it; I cannot imagine my body any other way but the way it is now.

And people too young to remember the days of Stonewall and Jim Crow laws cannot imagine that sort of world: the one of which people like me and Jay still have memories.

Of course, we do not want people to forget history. I myself don't want to forget what I've experienced of it, such as it is. But now I wonder just how much of our own pasts we must remember, and which things are important.

I guess that will all become clearer in time.

29 July 2009

Maxi-pads, Chocolate and Reaffirming Femininity

My big outing of the day: to the Post Office, then to Rite Aid, where I bought two packages of Kotex maxi-pads, two bars of Lindt 70% Extra Dark (one of the world's best legal non-prescription drugs!) and a package of Ferrero Rocher chocolates that were on sale.

Cheryl, the assistant manager at Rite Aid, hadn't seen me in some time, and commented on it. She first met me when I moved into the neighborhood, just before I began my year of going to work and family engagements as Nick while going shopping, to movies and to various LGBT-related events as Justine. So she has seen the transition, but I hadn't talked to her about my surgery. And she noticed the two packages of maxi-pads.

"Two of a girl's basic needs," she dryly remarked.

I couldn't suppress a grin, which I couldn't keep from blossoming into a smile.

"Exactly what I need now," I said.

She looked at me. One of those silences that lasts a nanosecond but seems to engulf all of time hung in, but did not fill, the space between us.

"I've just had my operation."

A silence that seemed even longer than the previous one filled the air as she looked directly into my eyes for the first time. "You're looking well. You're looking happy."

"I feel as if a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. I feel more complete now."

"I'm glad for you. I hope everything continues to go well." Then she rushed toward the back of the store, where a young woman was stocking the shelves in the "baby needs" aisle.

Given that she was on the job, I'm surprised that we talked for as long as we did. Perhaps we'll talk about this some more. Perhaps not. Maybe she won't want to, or we won't need to.

It's not as if Cheryl is a close friend. But she's one of those people who's always been friendly and helpful to me. Who knows....Maybe the next time I go to that Rite Aid, she'll tell me to buy different pads. Or she'll tell me that she likes dark chocolate or wonder how in the world I eat them.

I've long suspected that all women love chocolate, and if women can be classified in any way, it's according to their tastes in chocolate: one who likes dark is definitely different from someone who prefers milk chocolate, who is yet another kind of woman from one who goes for white. Then, of course, we can further categorize women by whether they like truffles, caramel fillings, cream fillings, liqueurs, nuts, raisins or other additions--or whether they prefer their chocolate "straight."

Somehow I suspect Cheryl likes milk chocolate with caramel. Nothing wrong with that: I just happen to prefer mine dark and straight, or a dark truffle. I must admit that for the life of me, I don't understand how anyone eats white chocolate straight-up. I can understand using it as a garnish or flavoring, or swirling or layering it with dark chocolate. But to eat chunks of it...no.

Later in the afternoon, I talked to Regina for the first time in a while. She moved from the college where I teach now to the one in which I taught before I came to my current college. It's not so far away from me, but because our schedules have been so different, we haven't seen each other in a while. We made a lunch date for next Friday. Still, I was trying to talk to her for as long as I could: It's always such a pleasure for me.

Near the end of our conversation, she said something that still moves me, even though she's said it before: "You're an inspiration for me."

If her phone were photosensitive, it would've been pink from my blushing. "Really? Well, I'm happy for that."

"You really are. You reaffirm femininity. You show people how good it is to be feminine."

The funny thing is that I never set out to be "feminine." I just happen to be that way, or at least express myself that way. But, if she or any other woman--or man, for that matter--feels that I reaffirm what is best about being who one is, then I'm happy.

Just remember that I need maxi-pads and love chocolate, just as you do! ;-)

28 July 2009

New Words In An Old Friendship

"You sound really good!"

Bruce, who is not given to speaking in superlatives, said that. Today we talked for the first time since my surgery. He'd been away and, given my nonexistent-at-this-moment sense of time, I wasn't sure of whether or not he'd returned yet.

He was on a holiday that's typical for him: a Zen retreat and some hiking. And, he capped it this weekend when he and other family members took his mother on a hot-air baloon ride for her 85th birthday.

I don't think I've ever before been so happy to talk to him in the nearly three decades I've known him. "From the moment I woke up from the surgery, I felt as if a weight had come off my shoulders."

"Really?! I can see why."

"Yes. I could actually feel it. And it's a good thing..."

"Oh, I'm sure."

"You bet it is. From all this inactivity, I have no upper body strength."

And then the patented Bruce Groan. Every time one or the other of us--or anyone else--has made a really silly joke or bad pun, I've heard it. Today it's another sign that I'm home. But now it's even better: I am the person I was always meant to be, and he welcomes her.

Now, of course, I had been living as a woman for almost six years before I had my surgery. But I think Bruce sensed, even before I voiced it, the sense of completeness, of wholeness I now feel. My journey is not complete--at least I hope not!--but at least I can move forward with more emotional and spiritual integrity.

We've made plans to have lunch on Friday. I was hoping to see him on Thursday, after my appointment with Dr. Jennifer. But, he has one of those meetings that no amount of cunning, charm or chicanery I may or may not have ever been capable of can get him out of.

Omigoddess...that last sentence. And I teach English! I hope my department chair doesn't see that one.

So why am I letting it stand? Well, I guess you can say that I care a bit more about sincerity, "heart" and trueness to myself and to the truth than I do about propriety. Deep down, I've always been that way, although I put on my stuffy grammarian's mask when it got me influence (or the illusion of it, anyway) or it simply made me feel superior to somebody else. But now....Speaking in a language that's accurate and truthful will do all sorts of things for me that perfect grammar won't. Or so I believe.

Now I wonder what it will be like to go back to the college, and to teach, this fall. It's not that I don't want to do either. I just wonder what, if anything, I will see or do differently. What will matter more to me; what will concern me less? Or will I still care about the same things in more or less the same ways?

I guess those are the essential questions when it comes to any kind of change a person undergoes. Will I come to realize that the things I've been teaching my students are even more important than I thought they were? Or will I see them as roadblocks against arriving at the truth about ourselves? Could it be the language I've tried to teach them simply cannot express the things they--or I--need to say?

I keep thinking about Michelangelo's David. Michelangelo kept on chipping away until he found David; all of the work and the surgery were about getting to the woman within me. Could it be that--as I've suspected--it's necessary to chip away all the dead language, all of the words, phrases and other structures of language that have grown obsolete, or simply tired, in order to get at the truth? Sometimes I feel that my education--and whatever education I've imparted to my students--is based on the premise that our truths can be fashioned from the words we learn. Or, worse, we receive the message that more words, more phrases, more pages are better.

Enough theorizing for now. I'm thinking about Bruce again. He may well be the only real male friend I've ever had. Take that back: I consider Millie's husband Johnny a friend, too, though I probably wouldn't have met him if I hadn't met Millie. Anyway...I expect my friendship with Bruce to continue. But I can't help but to wonder whether anything about it will change. Maybe it won't be dramatic: It seems that he and I stopped relating to each other as one male to another a long time ago, if indeed we ever had such a relationship. And I don't think the changes will be negative, either: After all, he's seen me become happier and more integrated over the past few years, and I feel that it's deepened our friendship.

And now he says that I sound better than I ever did before. I can't wait to see him on Friday: We've planned a lunch date for then.

27 July 2009

Dr. Jennifer: My First Visit With The Gynecologist

Today I had my very first visit with a gynecologist. Well, Marci Bowers is a gynecologist, too, but today's appointment was the first time I visited a gynecologist specifically because she's a gynecologist.

If Marci had been born with the XX chromosomes and had been gay, she would have been something like Dr. Jennifer Johnson. Like Dr. Bowers, Dr. Johnson instisted that I call her by her first name. Also like Dr. Bowers, Dr. Johnson knows exactly what she's doing and has the benefit of all of the best tools, technology and experience. But, also in common with Dr. Bowers, she knows that those aren't all her patients need: For good, holistic health, people like me need a good, empathetic human being as well as the most efficient machines modern medicine has.

And that is why I have had complete confidence in both of them from the moment I first came into contact with each of them. They know that your womanhood is not just about the shape of your body's organs; it's a state of mind and a manifestation of the spirit. I think that even back when I was cynical (or faking it, anyway), I could have seen that quality in either of them.

If Marci took me over the bridge to femaleness, she and Jennifer have been welcoming me into that land in which I have always been a citizen but in which I have only recently begun to reside. You might say that I was born and lived as a female exiled in prison or in a prison of exile. And now that I have entered into the country of my spirit, I have guides and allies in people like Marci and Jennifer.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised, then, that Jennifer was not only evaluating my condition; she was admiring the work Marci did on me. As well she should. Even though there's still some swelling and the scars are healing, I can see the artistry of her work. It's not just a matter of the shape of my labia looking proportionate or symmetrical or the feeling I'm starting to have in my clitoris.

I think now of what Michelangelo said about his work: He chipped away at the stone until the David that was always within it came to be. Marci didn't simply fashion a vagina for me: She worked with the materials I had until the vagina that was always within me found its way. I realized this during my session with Jennifer, when I caught a glimpse of my new organs in a mirror wondered how there ever could have been anything else between my legs.

Really, it's no wonder--if I do say so myself--that within the first minute or so of my time with Jennifer, she exclaimed that I was "positively glowing." I replied that after the surgery, I felt as if a huge weight had come off my shoulders. That burden was, of course, the overlay of a masculine inversion. I mean, really, when the wall is chipped away, when the blinds are turned outward, what else streams in but light? And how can anyone who is suddenly filled with it do anything but "glow?"

The funny thing is that she wasn't the first or last person to say that I was "glowing" today. And I didn't even leave the house except to go to my appointment with Jennifer!

I'm going to see her again on Thursday. She said that everything looks fine and is doing what it's supposed to be doing, but that I was showing the first sign of a mild infection near the bottom-most suture. She said it wasn't anybody's fault; it's just a result of some of the discharges that people normally experience after surgery. Marci said I might experience something like this; that is one reason why she recommends a gynecological appointment two weeks or so after the surgery.

So...Everything is where it's supposed to be. And I'm meeting people who are even better versions of the people I need and want. Is this a life, or what?

25 July 2009

Walks, Rides and Baths for a Woman

Today I took my longest walk so far: a bit more than an hour. I hadn't planned on it; I just sauntered along Vernon Boulevard, past Rainey Park (which is around the corner from my apartment), the Costco store, Socrates Sculpture Park and a patch of sand where lots of boys and girls of all ages climb the wooden fence after dark.

I couldn't climb that fence now even if I wanted to. That won't be possible for another two and a half months, or thereabouts. Dr. Bowers didn't say anything about climbing fences. But I'm guessing that the timetable she gave me for cycling--three months after my surgery--would apply to climbing fences. Not that I plan on doing anything like that.

Just past that "beach," I turned right, away from the East River and onto street where an empty lot occupied the corner. A wooden fence surrounded it, and "For Sale" signs hung from each side of it. It's still a strange concept, really, that one can buy or sell a piece of the earth. Native Americans apparently didn't believe that was possible, which may be the reason why, according to legend, they let go of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24. These days, you can hardly get dinner for that amount of money.

Just past the empty lot, a nice residential street continued for a few blocks. That street is lined with some very well-kept Colonial and neo-Colonial wooden frame houses. Apparently, there was a hill there once: Most of the houses seemed to sit on mounds a few feet above the street level.

The humidity had dissipated a bit, and the sun put in an appearance. And a soft breeze crept off the river and brushed against my bare legs and arms. On days like this, it seems like every kid, dog and cat wants to play with me and even the most jaded adults have a smile.

That's the reason I kept on walking. My legs had no problem carrying and moving me, just as my arms are strong enough to pick up a few things I probably shouldn't have picked up. But, whenever I extend myself, as I did today, I feel it in my groin area. Areas that swelled as they normally would after surgery swelled a bit more; I can feel sore if not in pain. And I'm not tired, but I'm sure that I will be fairly soon. That will be time for Daily Dilation Number 3 and the Daily Recommended warm bath with Epsom salt.

Funny...Until this week, I hadn't taken a bath since I was about eight years old or so. The first time I took a shower, it felt so grown-up, and I never wanted to take a bath again. Even after I lost my angry desire to distance myself from childhood (and, later, adolescence and early adulthood), I continued to take showers out of habit and convenience. With the extra time and steps I now take in preparing myself to go to work (in fixing my hair, putting on makeup, simply getting dressed), I simply could not imagine taking even more time out of my day to take a bath.

But for the past three nights, I took one of those recommended baths immediately before I went to bed. Now, all of you who take baths know how relaxing that is. It was nonetheless a revelation to me. If I had known just how a semi-immersion in warm water with a little epsom salt would feel, I would have taken one after every one of those bike long, hard bike rides--especially the ones in which I climbed or pedalled into the wind--back when I was riding practically everywhere I went.

Or maybe not, now that I think of it. Some people who saw my surfboard-with-shoulders body in those days might say that I was "taking better care" of myself than I do now. I did indeed exert myself physically: I probably had months in which I pedalled more miles and spent more time working out than I have so far this year. I was skinnier; I had more endurance.

Actually, I had more stubborness, which is a way of saying "denial." I wasn't really taking care of my body: I was pushing it, sometimes past its limits. In one sense, it wasn't so different from what I did back when I was drinking about a third of my take-home pay (which was good in those days) and did a few other substances, well, because they were there.

Of course, if you're going to batter your body, you're better off doing it with exercise than with alcohol or other drugs. In my infrequent visits to doctors, they would re-take my blood pressure reading just to be sure they got it right: Doctors and nurses actually told me they'd never seen such a low reading in a person my age. And almost every other reading they took of me was textbook-perfect.

Even my testosterone level was exactly where it should have been. Of course, I didn't know that until I decided to make my transition away from that life. As part of the screening I had to undergo before I started to take hormones, I had to submit several blood samples. When the doctor read the results, I was relieved to learn that my youthful excesses hadn't damaged my liver or kidneys, and was mildly surprised about my testosterone level. However, I was shocked--and, deep down, elated--to learn that my estrogen level was "off the charts" for a "normal" male.

Medical researchers haven't yet gone on record as saying that there's a cause-and-effect relationship between estrogen levels and the feelings I had. But more than a few admit that lots of transgender people have elevated levels of the "other " hormone.

But I digress. (Well, isn't that what I was doing during my walk today?) Point is, the feats of endurance that used to make me feel so superior to those who weren't doing them weren't really making me healthy, at least in a way. I was pounding my body into submission, but I wasn't really taking care of it--or, more important, myself.

No matter what I did, I never felt any real satisfaction. On those rare occasions when I looked in a mirror, I saw a male body that had to be conquered and beaten into submission. Now, when I look in the mirror, I see--amongst my many imperfections--someone to be loved, respected and taken care of, if not coddled. If I could feel the urge to protect and nurture someone whose vulnerabilities I have seen, why should I not feel the same way when I see my own vulnerability and my own need to be loved?

And, at the risk of seeming trite, I will repeat this truism: None of us can love anyone else if we don't love ourselves.

When I get back on the bike, I'd like to get back into good shape. I doubt that I'll be able to ride the way I did ten years ago. But at least I think it will be better for my overall health, as I suspect today's walk was.

And I won't regard the baths as self-indulgent or a waste of time. Instead, they'll be a form of spiritual nourishment. After all, for a bath to have its effect, you have to relax--which, for me, means not thinking about the things I could or should be doing with that time I spend in the water.

I think these walks are going to get better. So will the bike riding. After all, I'll be walking and riding as the woman I am, not as the man I tried to be.

Now, if I start to do those walks or rides--or, worse yet, take baths--in heels, well, that might not be so healthy. But it could be fun--at least to think about-- once in a while! ;-)

For now, it's bath time.

24 July 2009

Ecstasy to Laundry

After ecstasy, the laundry...

The Zen master who uttered that wasn't referring to a drug that was popular in the club scene during the '80's.

That teacher--I forget who it was (Bruce would probably know)--was saying, in essence, that after a "peak" experience, we have to return to the mundane. I don't think that master was making a value judgment, he/she was simply describing life as it is.

Today I did some laundry, in the most literal sense. I never knew I could make simply so many clothes dirty simply by sitting or lying around! Actually, my bedsheets needed washing, and I'd wanted to wash some underthings and towels on which I'd spilled or dripped ointments and such.

Just about any one of us who undergoes gender reassignment surgery envisions the life we hope to have after it. I would suspect that many of us, in our thinking, leap directly from the surgery to our post-surgery lives. We all know that we have to spend time recovering from the surgery. But I wonder how many actually think about that time.

I know I didn't, at least not much. I thought about my life as a woman: one that would include relationships that would continue--some changed, others not--and new bonds that would form. I also had a notion that someone who has been a friend or ally would be no longer. And I envisioned a life of writing, teaching and possibly taking on some new endeavor. Also, I would have some sort of blissful love with one very special person.

Well...I didn't think about this little intermediate step. Then again, who ever thinks of sitting down, sleeping when she hadn't planned on doing so or simply being more or less housebound, however temporarily, as part of the life she envisioned?

Oh well. I know that I need this time of rest to heal from my surgery--and so much that preceded it. But it's so hard to fight back my reflexes: I pick up things I probably shouldn't, and I'm probably bending more than I should. I hope I don't do any damage. Today I called Marci; Janet, who works in her office, said that the swelling I feel is normal, but that I probably should get more rest (!) during the next couple of days.

I know that none of my family, friends or colleagues expect me to do anything right now. Millie came in and helped me with a couple of household tasks. She admonished me to rest: She knows me.

And that is what I am going to do--after I take a doctor-mandated warm bath.

23 July 2009

Another Homecoming?

A gray, humid day has turned into a cool, rainy evening. That sort of thing doesn't happen in Trinidad, CO, apparently.

I never knew how happy I would be to see a day like this...until today. In Colorado, I really was happy to see those great expanses of sky, and long periods of time with scarcely a cloud in them. I also marvelled at those sudden, gully-washing rains that come and go like mirages or hallucinations. Florida has rainstorms like that most afternoons during the summer, but the mountains around Trinidad seem to make the coming and passing of those torrents seem even more intense, even when they're not accompanied by thunder and lightning.

Now tires are hissing on wet pavement as the breeze ripples curtains across my windows. Yes, this is an urban rain: The water here, even in the worst of storms, transmutes but does not slow down the pace of the rushing tires and pulsing footsteps; it refracts neon and incandescent light into a constellation of reflections one cannot see in the sky.

In other words, this rain, or more precisely, the water that hisses like a crystal serpent, diffuses the harshest sights and sounds of the city. It makes bearable the heat and humidity that precedes it by disappating them into flickering reflections and waves of chilly air that you can just barely feel unless you're moving. And, at this moment, I'm not, except to type these words.

Somehow I think that if the Spanish or French, rather than the Dutch and English, had settled this area, they wouldn't have named any body of water El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatoire. That's what the river that cuts through Trinidad was named; today it is known as the Purgatory River. It was so named because of the explorers who were killed there and didn't have the Last Rites of the church administered to them. They thus became lost souls, sentenced to purgatory.

I doubt that anyone in this city, or in any large city in the northern industrialized world, thinks of lost souls and purgatory when he or she hears the rain or sees the river. It seems that in most such cities--I'm thinking now of Paris, London, Amsterdam, Boston and San Francisco, as well as the city I call home--the rain softens the sharp elbows and the angles of steel and glass. In the high mesa of Colorado and New Mexico, it seems that the rain is one of those edges, which, when it's over, makes the starkness of the landscape and the refulgence of the sun even more intense.

I think now of an account George Orwell wrote during the Spanish Civil War. Rather than New York with Trinidad or city with Mesa, Orwell was contrasting Spain with France. If I recall it correctly, he said that with every kilometer into France one travels, the light becomes more diffuse and the colors softer. On the other hand, as one ventures into Spain, the sun grows more intense and the trees and other life take on harsher, starker hues. The Spanish vista, he said, throws so many things into sharp relief; the French tableau softens them into memories.

Perhaps I am a creature of diffusion. As much as I loved the light and rain in Trinidad, I am now in my native sights and sounds. Yes, now I am home--and, now, at home in my body.

Funny, how I had to go to Trinidad to come home to myself, and to come home again. Maybe that's why I've ended every conversation I've had with Mom--and, yes, even Dad!--by thanking them and telling them I love them. I've been doing that for Millie and my other friends, too.

Could it be that I've just learned what a homecoming is? Is it a matter of coming or returning to whom and what you love? And, is that what allows you to love other things and people?

Hmm...If this is my reward for undergoing gender-reassignment surgery, I only wish I could've done it sooner. If only I'd been ready...

At least, as Bruce might say, I'm here now. Yes, I love you, too, Bruce.

21 July 2009

Inside Out

I can't believe that two weeks have passed since my surgery!

Tomorrow night, I will have been home for a week. Charlie and Max are still treating me as if I'd just walked in the door: They can't keep themselves off, much less away from, me. Actually, I'm happy about that. Their cuddling and purring are even more relaxing than most massages.

Mom says they're afraid I'm going to leave again. Even though I don't think I'm going to venture much more than a few blocks from my apartment for a while--at least until my appointment with my gynecologist next week--I suspect she's right.

I can't help but to wonder whether they know what I've done. I can't help but to think that they know that I've changed in some way. Perhaps they're afraid that I'll change into something they can't recognize. Well, they shouldn't fear: I'm going to change into my nightgown. They've seen that before.

Seriously...I know that I am going to experience further changes. What those changes are, I don't know. All I know is that I really can't do anything but change, mainly because I am learning about myself in ways I never imagined.

More specifically, I am seeing my body in ways I never imagined I could. I first became aware of that last week, during my session with Nurse Phyllis.

She removed my catheter tube. Then she pulled the packing material out of my vagina. It seemed that there was no end to it: The blood-tinged white strand streamed out of me like one of those endless strands of spaghetti the cartoon characters would suck until there was nothing left in the plate.

It was the first time I ever saw something pulled from inside my body. That, I realize now, is the reason I insisted on watching. And, of course, it allowed me my first unobstructed view of my new female organs.

Those organs had once been my male organs. Dr. Bowers essentially turned them inside-out.

No one ever accused me of being unduly fixated on my cock. Truth was, it was the last thing in the world I wanted to think about. Of course, that meant that at times, all I could do was to think about it--or, more specifically, the fact that it was there.

Then Marci Bowers brought my womanhood from within. In that sense, my operation was the culminating event that I expected it to be: For the past few years, I have been bringing my essential female self--Justine--into the world, from within me.

That was my real transition. The hormones may have helped, but they didn't turn a masculine visage into a feminine (after a certain fashion, anyway) face. My jawline and other facial structures may have indeed softened and become less angular, but the real reason why I see Justine's face rather than Nick's in the mirror--and, I believe, why people who've seen old photos of me can't believe that I am the person in those photos--is that I am seeing myself from within me.

What I see now has always been within me. I have lately been fortunate enough--and am now tired enough!--to have seen it all coming from within me.

20 July 2009

A Butterfly Under A Heat Lamp Grows A Fur Collar

I know...Forty years ago today, Neil Armstrong took his--the human race's--first step on the moon. If I were a world-famous blogger (or world-famous anything else), I'd be more or less obligated to say something about that historic event. Well, now I will indulge in one of the luxuries of obscurity: I won't talk about it.

Instead, I'll talk about myself. After all, isn't that the reason you're reading this? I mean, come on: I just had my gender reassignment surgery. Did you really think I was going to talk about some ancient space odyssey?

So what will I talk about that will take your mind off Neil Armstrong and the moon? Well, my body, of course! Tell me now: My body is vastly more interesting than the moon, or some guys on a spaceship. Right?

All right. So I'm going to talk about my body--or, more specifically, something that's happening to it. Or might be happening to it.

You might say that I'm going through a third puberty. Just what everybody dreams of, right? Or maybe I'm experiencing the latest stage of my second puberty, which has been a major part of my midlife.

So what sign am I taking for this wonder? Over the last couple of days, I've noticed fine reddish-blonde hairs growing just above the clitoris Dr. Bowers created from flesh that used to surround my male organs. I knew this would happen sooner or later; I was surprised only at how quickly I could see those hairs which, like the others on my body, are light and fine.

Of course, they are a welcome sign of my progress. Even more welcome is, of course, the development of my vagina, which at the moment looks like a mylar butterfly that was left under a heat lamp and is growing a fur collar. The basic shape of my new organs are there; all I have to do is to wait for the scars to continue their healing and for the skin of those lobes to camoflague itself with the surrounding flesh. I feel the twinges and tautness one normally feels with scars that are healing and skin that's morphing into its post-scar shape and color.

I've always heard that birth involves pain, scars, healing and re-growth. I haven't had much pain, or at least less than I expected. And the scars are neither as extensive nor as deep as I'd expected. But I can certainly see the healing and re-growth--remarkably, on a day-to-day basis. I never expected anything like that, especially at such a late date in my life.

But somehow none of the changes evokes as many memories and comparisons for me as the hairs growing just above my newly-formed and newly-forming organs. I really can't compare my new labia or clitoris to my scrotum or penile shaft, even though Dr. Bowers used those male organs to create my new female organs. But I can compare, not only the appearance of my old pubic hairs to my new ones, but even more important, my experience of seeing those first ones way back when with noticing the first of my current growth.

While my new hairs are a joyous (at least to me) sign that my body is on its way to taking on the feminine forms I'd always wanted, the hairs that appeared in the same area of my body during my teen years filled me with horror and disgust. Somehow, each of those hairs were--to use one of the world's most hackneyed comparisons--nails in my coffin. Maleness was, for me, a form of dying; becoming a man was my synonym for death.

On the other hand, most boys can't wait to see those hairs on their bodies. For a boy, having to take off his clothes in a high-school locker room when the area above his penis is as bare as a baby's bum at is about as terrifying an experience as he can have in the company of peers whose crotches seem to be covered with thickets. He feels exposed; on the other boys, it seems that each of those hairs staves off another physical or verbal jab.

Unless, of course, his pubic hairs grow in a year (or more) later than those of his peers. Then, those late-blooming brushes become causes for further ridicule. I know: That is what happened to me.

Entering manhood--or what most boys think of as manhood--later and less vigorously than the other boys in his life is worse than not entering it at all. Especially if that boy is anything like I was. The anguish and self-hatred that I already felt over being forced to live as male (mainly because no one else seemed to know there was any other way) was compounded by this seeming death-blow to any hope I had of, if not becoming a woman, at least not becoming a man.

And, one day, when I was changing my clothes, my brother didn't bother to knock on the door before entering my room. He saw that blaze of hair and ran upstairs, announcing his discovery to everyone else in my family.

To be fair, he was--if I recall correctly--about eight or nine years old at that time. Still, I hated him, and would hate him for a long time afterward. Not only did he violate one of the few moments of privacy I had in those days; he seemed to announce to the world that, for me, there was no turning back--or no turning at all. There would be only a life defined by the betrayal of my body and the expectations that it--or, more precisely, my brother's announcement of it--engendered.

Whatever physical irritation I'm feeling now pales next to the burden I felt then. At least whatever I feel today is a sign that I'm developing into the woman I always knew myself to be.

That's one short hair for a girl, one giant growth for....Naah, that won't end up in Bartlett's. But you get the idea.

19 July 2009

Walking In, Walking With

Today was another sunny, warm, and dry day. I imagine I would have encountered daytime weather like this in Trinidad had I gone a few weeks earlier. The nights would have been much cooler, though: The between day and night is much greater than it is here.

I'm still walking slowly, as it is still very early in my healing process. And I'm staying within a few-block radius of my apartment, in deference to two aspects of my current condition: my decreased strength and my seemingly-reduced bladder capacity. I know that my stamina will return, eventually. I hope my bladder capacity--such as it was--does, too. I'm not hoping for what I had as a male, but I at least hope it will be what it was while I was taking hormones.

Other than my physical fatigue, I really have no complaints. This may be one of the few times in my life in which no one will expect me to rationalize the fact that I'm not doing more than I am doing! Really, all I have to do during the next five weeks is to recover.

If you asked most people, "What is Justine recovering from?," most of them would say, "The surgery, of course!" (Some might end the sentence with a ruder expression than "of course," but you get the idea.) However, I get the feeling that I am also healing from things that are much older and deeper than the scars from my surgery.

A couple of the trans people I met in Trinidad have suffered cruelties of fate and human caprice that I cannot even imagine. My story cannot compare to theirs. However, I have experienced all sorts of meanness at the hands of people who hated me for, well, simply being. Some thought I was a guy who had to "butch up" a bit more; others didn't want me to because, as I was, I served as their punching bag. And I'm not talking only in a physical sense: Some of those people could feel superior to me because, well, they weren't me.

But even worse than anything anyone did to me were the things I did to myself, all out of self-loathing. That includes, of course, the alcohol and drug abuse of my youth.

It's interesting, at least to me, that this recovery from my surgery coincides, almost to the day, with the very first days of my recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. On 14 June 1986, I spent my first day since I-couldn't-remember-when without drugs and alcohol. I very quickly realized that I wasn't recovering only from what those substances did to my mind and spirit; I was also healing--or, I should say, I was also beginning my process of healing from rapes, abusive relationships and all sorts of other things.

In that sense, this time reminds me of those early days of my sobriety. The recovery from my surgery is the bird-dropping on the tip of the iceberg of my healing. Now I am not only in recovery, I am recovering--who and what I am. I am only beginning to rescue the "beautiful" person Marilynne and others say I am from inside the wall--one that corrodes, from within, the very things it protects from outside intruders--that I constructed, day by day, brick by brick, around what turned out to be a rather flimsy bastion (Is that an oxymoron?) of maleness.

That is the reason why a simple walk to the park, as I took today, fills me with the sort of confidence and light that conquering mountains never could give me. Probably 90% of the women out there were easier on the eyes than I was: My hair was a mess, I wasn't wearing any makeup, except for lipstick, and I was wearing a rather loose sundress with a rip on the side. (So that's what all those guys were looking at? ;-) ) But I wasn't thinking about how I looked: I stepped, I moved with a confidence about who I am. I knew exactly who I am and what I'd become--female and woman--and no one, not any person (not that any tried) or any city, state or country could deny me that.

Fortunately, the ones who've tried weren't anywhere near me today. But even if they find their way back to my life, they no longer have (if they ever did) any power over me. I may be weak and flabby, but I have never felt the strength of who I am as much as I did on that two-block walk to the park today.

18 July 2009

Sleeping With Experience, Waking To Lessons

I seem to have been alternating between sleep and hyperactivity since I got home from my surgery. As far as I can tell, this is normal: I certainly need the rest, but I'm not very good at sitting still. Some of the longest hours of my life were the ones during which I was lying in that hospital bed, waiting to get out for my first walk as a woman. That night, I got one of the longest and deepest sleeps I've ever had.

That cycle of sleep and restlessness is repeating itself now that I'm home. Perhaps this is the way of being born, if not of giving birth. No one is more curious than a newborn; no one has as much to teach, and the need to teach it, as the one who has brought that newborn into the world. Of course, the pedagogical method is not Socratic; rather, it pure intuition for both teacher and pupil. And I just happen to be both.

Although none of this surprises me, it's not quite what I expected. Somehow I expected to nourish myself with the legacy (or carcass, depending on your point of view) of someone I was "leaving behind." Perhaps, in some sense, I am abandoning or, better yet, transcending the person I once was. But now I feel as if I, the birth-giver, has been given the gifts and burdens of that person's experience, and that as I impart it, I am becoming the one to whom I impart it.

If that sounds mystical and you don't like mysticism (Frankly, I'm not much of a fan of it.), well, I'm sorry I can't do any better right now. However, if this sounds like a beautiful experience, I can assure you that it is, at least for me, even more beautiful than I've described.

Late today, I walked to the bodega and bought a pint of La Salle Dulce de Leche ice cream. (It's great with sliced or diced pears and fresh-ground nutmeg.) As I walked home, in the direction of the East River, the sun was beginning to set. The day had been warm but not humid (very unusual for New York at this time of year), and a breeze wafted off the river and rippled against my bare shoulders and my sun-dress.

I would have called what I was feeling "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," with apologies to Milan Kundera, except that it was anything but unbearable. Not to say that it was easy: I was learning, at that moment, my own spiritual weight and how to navigate with it. However, I was not learning through some dialectical, question-and-answer process. Instead, I felt more as if it were some sort of metamorphosis: The one who had been alien in a male body was becoming one who is beginning her life in the world of women. Those days of alienation are past; the days of living "as" a woman--days only recently passing-- were now turning into the early days of the life of which I'd long dreamed.

This is only the beginning of that life. For now, my main concern is recovering. From the surgery, yes, and I'm doing that more quickly than I'd expected. But the real recovery, I feel, has to do with so many of the things I experienced before the surgery--in fact, before I even admitted to myself that this is what I wanted.

Those experiences include rapes, betrayals, beatings (ones that I've committed as well as have been subjected to) and various other sorts of hurt. There are the two former friends who, perhaps, I will no longer think of as "former"--or, as some have suggested, "friends that never were." Rather, they are people who are not part of my life now, and probably never will be. Even if they were to try to make amends to me, I don't think it would be possible: I am as different from the woman they betrayed as she is from the "man" they befriended. They may be different, too, from the people who were in my life, which would make the questions of "forgiveness" and "renewing the friendship" even more irrelevant.

Simply put, they are not part of my life now. Only the lessons I have learned from my experiences with them remain. And, I am learning, lessons are far more useful than memories for moving forward in one's life. I'm not losing the experiences that begat those lessons. Instead, I am finally getting the opportunity to live by those lessons, rather than to continue in the prison of the memories--which are so unreliable--of my experiences. And there are so many new experiences to come.

I want to move ahead and discover them. But I need some rest now.

16 July 2009

Rest and Encouragement for the Journey

I've been drifting in and out of consciousness today. I don't think any travel date has left me as tired on the following day as yesterday left me today.

It's not that it was one of those travel days from hell. To the contrary: The drive from Trinidad to Colorado Springs went without delay, and seemed even quicker than it was because I was riding and talking with Robin, who works in Dr. Bowers' office. Each of my flights landed ahead of schedule, and I opened the door to my apartment about an hour earlier than I anticipated.

Before she turned on to the highway, she dropped off someone who's having her surgery today.
I've forgotten her name, but I recall that she's from West Virginia and has beautiful light green eyes. She admitted to feeling very anxious about the surgery and, in the little time I saw her, I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I really felt no pain, only some irritation and soreness as well as fatigue. I reached my left hand back to her right and clasped it. "I'm feeling really good," I exclaimed. "And you're going to be in the same hands that took care of me."

That seemed to calm her, for a moment. "What you're going through now is really worse than the surgery itself," I said. "Preparation is the worst. But soon it'll be over."

Tomorrow I'll call Robin to see how that woman is doing. What I won't mention, though, is that I'd like a name to remember along with those eyes!

OK...So how many people did I fall in love with in Trinidad? Hmm....Danny, the trans man who stayed at the Morning After House. The woman I just mentioned. Dave, the anaesthesiologist. (He insisted that I call him by his first name.) And, of course, Marci. So that's what? --four people in eleven days. Two males, two females. I guess that's proof I'm bisexual, whatever that means.

Marci, Danny and Dave are all accounted for. The woman with the green eyes, I don't know. She was the first person in ten days to see me when I was looking more-or-less presentable: no catheter bags or other medical torture devices. Even with all those appendages and under the influence of anaesthesia and other medications, I looked good, according to people who saw me. Either they should be canonized or they should be used to define the word "mendacious." Either way, I love them!

I, on the other hand, tell only the truth, especially when I'm telling people they're wonderful, beautiful, nice or smart. Or that everything's going to be all right. I told Joyce, my roommate during my last two days at the hospital, all of those things. And she looked fine when I saw her as I was leaving. Because she underwent her surgery two days after I experienced mine, I could advise her on what to expect. And when she told me about her headaches, fatigue and other minor maladies, I assured her that I'd had exactly the same expereiences.

"That's what's so good about staying at the Morning After House," my mother explained. "You all give each other support."

I was thinking the same thing. What's that about great minds?

I can't recall any other experience that made me happier to be, and gave me more pride in, being an educator. That brief conversation I had with the green-eyed woman on the eve of her surgery was, really, not so different from any number of conversations I've had with various students. Sometimes students are more ready to accomplish something than they realize they are; all I can (or need to) do is to convey my belief that they can do whatever it is they need to do. That belief is founded on the fact that they really, deep down, want to achieve their goal or simply want or need to do whatever is to be done at that moment.

That woman with the green eyes has, I'm sure, been thinking about the surgery for a long time. She wants it: She knows that the time has come for her to see with the light in her own eyes rather than the images of fears and other peoples' expectations.

Then again, if she backed out of the surgery, or simply decided not to do it today--neither of which I expect--I'm sure she knows why. There's nothing wrong with that. After all, she's still on the journey. Maybe she needs some rest.

As I do now. Everything's gone well, and everything is going to be OK. Sometimes you just get tired--especially when you're moving from one stage of your journey to the next, and it involves giving birth to your self.

14 July 2009

Beginning in Trinidad

At the Morning After House, where I have been staying since my release from Mount San Rafael Hospital, manager Carol Cometto keeps a guestbook. Here is my entry in it:

I was born in Georgia.

I have lived most of my life in New York.

But I have come to Trinidad, to begin.

Even though I had been living as a woman for nearly six years before coming here, I feel that my life as the person I am is starting just now.

Of course, it is not the surgery itself that changes one's life. However, it is one of our rites of passage from what we were expected to be to what our souls yearn to be. And Marci Bowers is exactly the right person to "deliver" me through that passage.

Not only is she an extremely skilled surgeon and fine doctor; she has the empathy and compassion to understand what we feel and need, and the vision, artistry and commitment to make it real.

Another person who has that passion, commitment and empathy is Carol Cometto. The Morning After House--her "baby"--is a dynamic testament to those qualities.

It hasn't been around for very long, so it has its kinks. But Carol got the most important part right: You walk in and you feel loved, not just "the love."

When I came in last week, I said to Carol--only half-jokingly--"You really don't expect me to leave, do you? She placed me in the "Sabrina" room. It's beautiful, and I could spend days, months, years basking in the light of it.

But it's not just the wood tones or the sunlight and views of Trinidad mountain in the window that make the place so inviting. It, like no other room I've ever been in, was crafted by someone who knows exactly what you want and need to feel the day before and the day after one of the most important events in your life.

Most important of all, what Carol has done is to make a space in which a real community is possible.

I am fortunate in that when I return to New York, I will be seeing a doctor and gynecologist who treat other transgender women. I also have friends and colleagues who have stood by and behind me. However, even in New York, I don't where else it's possible to find a place in which everyone understands just how you feel. It's like having your own native language and finally meeting the people who speak it in the land in which it is spoken.

While my stay at the Morning After House, like those of most guests, is short-lived (two days before and four days after my stay in the hospital), I feel that it will be a kind of "moveable feast" that I will always take with me, and which will always nourish me.

I will have, not only the house and Marci and Carol; I will also have Marilynne, who so steadfastly supported her daughter in her surgery; Danny, with his humor and overall enjoyable presence; Becky, whose spouse Joyce was my roommate for my last two days at Mount San Rafael Hospital. And of course, the nurses--especially Martha Martinez--in the hospital.

Because of them, I am beginning in Trinidad.

On The Eve: Bastille Day

Tomorrow I'm going home. As nice as this place is, I'm looking forward to going home.

Danny, the very sweet (and handsome!) trans man from Alaska, left this morning. And Marilynne and her daughter are not here now, either: They had to go to a hotel because one of the secretaries in Doctor Bowers' office messed up their reservation.

As much as I like the other people who are staying here, I miss Marilynne and her daughter, and Danny. Then again, I look forward to seeing Marilynne and her daughter again for a "girls' weekend." They brought up the possibility of coming to New York in October or November, after her daughter and I have sufficiently recovered and while the weather is still nice in my hometown. I'd really love to spend Thanksgiving weekend with them because that's when New York starts to deck itself out for Christmas. But I don't think they'd want to leave their family, and I would probably spend that time with my family or with Millie's.

I'd really like to see Joyce and her partner, Becky, again. That might be an excuse for me to take a trip to West Texas. I've been to Texas once, and I went only to Houston, which, in some people's minds, doesn't count. I don't particularly want to go to Houston again, but it might be fun to go to Lubbock, which Joyce described as "a college town in the middle of nowhere."

And/or I could go to Alaska and see Danny. Now that's definitely not a weekend--long or otherwise--trip. Also, I wonder how his wife would feel about that.

Hmm...Is this where I start expanding my horizons--into my own country?

Is that what revolutions are all about? Well, at least the French one was about that. I mean, some guys thought that maybe didn't need monarchies and droits du seigneur and all those other things that were making French people--some of them, anyway--unhappy.

They had the right idea, although it took them a while to make it work. I think, though, that the next revolution shouldn't be within a country. I think the human race needs this one: getting rid of war and all other forms of hate and exploitation. If the human race has any hope of becoming more enlightened, I think that is what we need to do.

Someone once told me that I'm a revolutionary. I almost want to say "If only...," except that I'm not sure that I'd actually want to be one. It's like I was telling Mom tonight: I never really wanted to cause anybody any trouble, or to be difficult in any other way. Things just turn out that way sometimes. I am who I am, and that in and of itself is very difficult for some people, at least at certain times.

The thing is, I have made life difficult, if only for a moment, for everyone I've ever loved and who has ever loved me. You can only imagine what it was like for Mom to raise a kid who was feeling something almost no one knew about, much less understood. Bruce and I have fought and argued; I'm sure there must have been moments when I've made Millie cringe.

And they are the ones whom I feel ready to see again. Marilynne and her daughter are part of the experience I am bringing back, which is a resource that will enable me to continue my life in the way I want it. So are Danny and Joyce and Becky. And that couple from Montana and their kids. Carol, the manager of The Morning After House, too. And, of course, Nurse Phyllis and the staff of Dr. Bowers' office: Robin, Janet and Ann.

Of course, the bridge from the days before this experience to tomorrow is Dr. Bowers. The friends to whom I will return tomorrow, the family members I hope to see in the days and weeks after and the colleagues with whom I will work again in a few weeks know who I am. Now I'll be more able to live as that person.

13 July 2009

Nurse Phyllis

Imagine that the magician has a woman on the table and, instead of sawing her in half, he pulls endless silk scarves out of some orifice of her body.

That's about what I experienced today. Not that it was a bad thing: It means that I am one step closer to living as an independent woman. And the person who provided the expereince could not have done it any better.

Today I had an appointment at Doctor Bowers' office with "Nurse Phyllis." She has the broad face and shoulders of some earth goddess, and the warmth and light of the sun coursing through her eyes. If you are ever going to have your insides pulled out, she's the person whom you want to do it.

What I described in that last sentence isn't as terrible as it sounds. You see, today she removed my catheter tube, which means that I'm free to pee and make a mess of a bathroom all on my own. Actually, I was a good girl in the bathroom today: I really didn't have to clean anything up after myself.

You'll never know what a privilege it is to pee without having a tube and bag attached to you, and having to empty that bag (or having to wait for someone empty it for you, as you do when you're in a hospital bed) until you have one of those tubes pulled out of you. And you'll also never realize how nice it is to sit down without having to angle your crotch or to sit on one of those inflatable donuts until you have a few yards of packing material pulled out of you, and that area feels more or less normal, if not the same as it was before it was packed. Of course, the fact that it's not the same is the whole point of the operation.

Anyway, Nurse Phyllis made the process painless. You relax, not only because she tells you to, but because she knows that, deep down, that's what you really want.

Then, she taught me what "graduates" of "The Trinidad Experience" refer to as "Vagina Boot Camp" or "Vagina 101." That mini-course included, as you might imagine, dialation as well as other care and feeding of my new organ. In other words, she teaches people like me to treat our vaginas in ways that lots of natural-born women never do. She recommends wearing cotton panties and not wearing materials that don't breathe. Now I'm really happy that I stopped wearing those stretchy shorts for cycling this year.

I'm so glad I had that session with Nurse Phyllis. She has such empathy for anyone who's put her feet in those stirrups and lay prone with her legs spread apart. That's one time you want to absolutely trust whoever is standing over you. And I knew, from the moment that I met her, that I could.

That's really what's made this whole experience of getting my GRS/SRS surgery so comfortable, at least relatively speaking: I could trust everyone who stood over me as I was vulnerable. That, of course, starts with Dr. Bowers: She is the very embodiment of that quality, and she finds people to work with her whose most essential quality is just that.

That need to trust is, from what I can see so far, one of the things that makes a woman's in getting health care different from a man's. I never had to be so vulnerable, so in the hands of those providing the care, as I have been during this experience. That is not to say that I've had to be passive; in fact, when you have to make yourself prone, that's exactly when you need to take charge of yourself. And that means, at least in part, finding the ones whom you can trust when you are lying down and, for the time being, helpless.

Now I am confident that I have gained at least one more of the skills I will need for the rest of my life. Thank you, Nurse Phyllis.

12 July 2009

The Day After

Yesterday I was released from the hospital. Joyce, my roommate during my last two days there, was about to take her first walk as a woman. I wanted to give her a good-luck kiss, but I'm not sure how much good luck my kiss would've brought her.

So now I'm back in the "Sabrina Room" of The Morning After House, in which I'd been staying during the two days before my surgery. I could stay here forever, or close to it: High-mesa light that's chimeric because it's so clear fills my windows with a nearly bird's-eye view of the mountain topped with the lighted "Trinidad" sign. To the left and right are backdrops of mountains full of the colors the high-mesa light washes out.

And this room is done in a Victorian contrast of ecru walls and dark wood window frames, closets and other furniture. In this room, the queen-sized bed is, well, really queen-sized.

Last night I made dinner for Marilynne (not her real name), whose daughter's surgery will probably be cited in medical journals for decades to come. It was successful, but it involved techniques that had never before been used--and, without them, the surgery would not have been possible.

You see, her daughter was born with a bodily configuration that maybe a handful of people in the history of the world have had. I won't get into the details, as Marilynne is guarding their privacy. Suffice it to say that her daughter's surgery took two and a half times as long as mine did.

Marilynne has given me a lot of emotional support when she had to give so much to her daughter--and members of her family were giving lots of grief and abuse to her as well as her husband and younger son. She is a saint and her daughter is a hero.

Today another one of those rare cases arrived. Lindy (also not her real name) was born male with a body that was, in essence, female in its shape. But she has the barest minimum of male genitalia, and in her words, "My body was stuck somewhere between female puberty and menopause." She's grown breasts and has some vestiges of female apparatus inside her body. But they are as non-functional as those outward vestiges of her male genitalia.

I don't know the details, but she said that this conflict within her body was destroying her liver and kidneys. And she needs the orchiotomy she will have tomorrow, not only to function as a female, but to save her life.

The most heartening and heartbreaking part of this story is that a woman married her seventeen years ago and seems to be as much in love with her today as she was then. I simply cannot imagine their lives: They have lived in poverty that I have never known, and Lindy has experienced sexual as well as other kinds of violence that make mine seem like scenes out of Lady Chatterly's Lovers.

But Lindy and her wife have two of the most beautiful children I have ever seen: a pretty blonde seven-year-old daughter who reminds me of what my niece Lauren looked like at that age, and an angelic five-year-old boy.

Lindy and her family look as if they are spending everything they ever had on that orchiotomy. Yet I have never seen any people--save, perhaps, for Marilynne and her daughter--who so exude their love for each other without flaunting it. If you cannot see how they love each other, you don't know what love is.