03 September 2009

Finding Mentors and Being One

This afternoon, before I went to work, I had my third appointment with Dr. Jennifer. It has been not quite two months since my surgery, and a little more than six weeks since I've come home. Yet in that short space of time, I have seen her more than I saw any or all doctors, probably, from the time I graduated college until I turned 35.

I remember noticing my reliance on health-care professionals increasing when I started my transition. I commented on this to Dr. Meyer, who was my primary doctor at the time. He explained that I did indeed have greater needs than I had before I started my transition. In addition, he said that women generally go to doctors more than men do.

Of course, I am also getting older. When I was younger, I never wanted to believe that I would indeed spend more time with medical professionals. I shared other young people's perception and belief in their invincibility; at the same time, I didn't want to live if I would need anyone's help. I guess I wanted to die young and, if not beautiful, at least not wizened.

Another reason why I didn't want to go to health care-professionals, even when I had good insurance plans, is that I never felt that I could be completely honest with any of them. When I was young, I admitted to about a quarter of my actual alcohol consumption and none of my drug-taking. And let's just say that I whitewashed my sexual history a bit.

Aside from the quality of the care I've been receiving and the comfortable rapport I have with Jennifer and with Marci, I realize they're giving me something else I've never had before. I realized what it is as I was talking with one of my colleagues in the department.

Julia and I had always had a respectful and friendly relationship. However, she seemed eager to talk to me yesterday. As I anticipated, she wanted to know how my surgery went and how I'm feeling. To the latter, she said, "Do I need to ask? You should see yourself!"

I described the experiences I had at the hospital and the Morning After House. "That time showed me that I am a teacher and creative person, and cannot be any other way," I explained.

"Of course! What else could you be?"

"And, you know, teaching isn't about being in a classroom."

"That's exactly how you should use those talents." She suggested that I think about becoming a counselor or therapist.

A little further into our conversation, I asked aboujt her post-divorce life. She then described some of her misadventures as a middle-aged woman who's "entered the market," so to speak, which led to a sort of primer on men, especially the ones who are looking for de facto or de jure wives. I'm not looking for a partner just yet, but her advice is very helpful.

After we talked, I realized that I've recently had, in effect, female mentors of one sort and another. Doctors Marci and Jennifer and Nurse Phyllis, of course, have taught me some very basic things about my body, and specifically my new organs. And people like Julia, Regina, Millie and my mother have offered me advice, or simply their observations and wisdom, about things like relationships and about what sort of life I can make for myself as a woman, and how to make it happen.

As a boy, as a young man, I never had a mentor or even a role model. The truth was, nobody could have been either of those things for me. Various men in my life could only show me how to be a man, or at least men like themselves. So, my father and other men tried to steer me toward careers that were inappropriate for me or in which I simply had no interest. They also thought that by trying to pique my interest in sports and other "manly" pursuits, and in trying to make me dress, talk and otherwise comport myself as a man, they were teaching me how to live.

They would have been, had I been capable of sustaining myself in lives like the ones they led. And I tried; Goddess knows I tried.

And so did they. Really, there's no way they could have helped me to understand the feelings I had about my body, and myself generally. A few people, including my mother, suspected that something wasn't quite what it seemed to be to other people. But what parent--at least in the time and places in which I grew up--would teach his or her kid to be any gender but the one marked on the kid's birth certificate?

Now I also understand some of the anxiety I had about returning to the college. I started to wonder what I could possibly teach anyone else that could be relevant to his or her life. And I didn't want to perpetuate some of the mis-education I received.

But now I realize that the fact that I am finding my life-teachers only now is all the more reason to continue teaching, in whatever capacity and in whatever subject matter. Maybe I can't teach a young man how to be a man, or a young woman how to be a woman. And maybe what they need to learn is different from what I'm teaching in the classroom. Or, perhaps, they need it for reasons that I never even imagined.

Interestingly enough, Jennifer, Julia and Larry, another prof, all said this to me: "People are responding to you. You should see yourself!"

So I'm finding mentors at the same time I might be learning how to be one myself. That makes sense, especially when you realize that the reason you become a teacher is so that you can learn.