17 May 2010

The End of the Semester: From the Shy Young Man to Dr. Klein

It's the time in the semester when students who haven't done their work all semester try to do it all.  And, most of the time, what they submit is predictably bad.  Thankfully, only a few students have tried that this semester.  However, I'm not looking forward to having to deal with them when they learn of their grades.

After work, I went to my appointment with Dr. Noah Klein, my opthamologist.  I've been going to him for six years:  When we were reviewing some of my records, he mentioned it.  The funny thing is that he actually seems younger to me now.  He doesn't look any different from the way he looked back then, and his demeanor hasn't changed.  And I don't mean that he's less mature or more boyish.  I guess he seems younger simply because he seems not to have aged and time has passed.  And, I'm told, I've changed.  I remain skeptical about that.  Then again, I'm skeptical about lots of things people take for granted.  If I were a scientist, I'd probably be skeptical about the law of gravity until I tested it for myself.

Back to Dr. Klein:  I've always liked him. I am probably the first (and, for all I know, I'm still the only) transgender patient he has ever had.  I remember my first visit with him, when he asked whether I was taking any medications.  First I mentioned Premarin.  He knew about that, probably because many of his female patients are in or past menopause.  He probably assumed that I was, too.  But then I mentioned that, at the time, I was taking Spironolactone.  I no longer take it, as it's an anti-androgen and my body no longer has the capacity for producing male hormones.  They probably didn't mention it when he was in ophthalmology school, so I had to explain what it is and why I was taking it.  He treated it as simply another relevant piece of information:  Neither the Premarin nor the Spironolactone was likely to have any effect on anything for which he might examine or treat me, but it was important for him to know nonetheless.

From that moment on, I knew I could at least trust him professionally.  At that time, it was especially important to me, as I had been living as Justine for less than a year and he was really the first medical-service provider I went to who wasn't part Callen-Lorde.  From then on, I have never been anything but a female patient of a certain age.   And, back in November, when I saw him for the first time since my surgery, I mentioned that I'd had it simply because it's part of my medical history.  He congratulated me but, as with the other things I've disclosed about myself, he treated it as simply another fact about a patient.  

I never expected him to be as warm and embracing of who I am as, say, Dr. Jennifer or Marci Bowers have been.  He has a Magden David and a bas-relief of the Magillah on his door, and every Friday his office closes an hour before sundown.  But, he always has been very respectful:  That, I've found, is how Orthodox Jews are toward educators of just about any sort.  What that means is, among other things, that he's not condescending, even when I ask questions that are sub-elementary.  And, if he's reserved, it's in the way of a shy kid who's grown up rather than someone who's standoffish.

It's easy to imagine one of my students growing up to be like him.  That student is in the first class I taught today--and this semester.  He and an Orthodox friend sit together.  The friend is talkative and rather outgoing; the student in question is shy and rather awkward socially.  But he, like his friend, is very smart and is genuinely interested in learning.  

Even if he doesn't become an ophthalmologist, or any other kind of doctor, he can look forward to seeing them twice a year, as I do now.  I told him that when I mentioned that I was leaving work to go to my appointments.   Unlike most young people (including me at his age), he actually seems to understand that.  What's more, he doesn't seem to mind.