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.