Six weeks post-surgery now. Healing is going fine, I guess. No complications. I can tell that the new parts and I are going to get along all right, but they’re still no fun. The sutures over the clitoral area and the labia minora are taking forever to dissolve, the long incisions itch, I’m still too swollen to sit without a donut, my back hurts from all the awkward sitting, and the aftercare is still a lot of work: three dilations a day until the end of September, when I will be permitted to drop to two. At least in a couple weeks I get to stop douching and taking sitz baths.
I still tire easily. I returned to work full time this past week and had to take a couple of short days, as well as going next door from time to time to the Women’s and Gender Studies house ('MPG has no unencumbered horizontal space) to lie on the couch. Healing is long hard work. I hope my energy will improve soon.
Also, I still have no sexual feeling. The nerves work, but even when it's not just annoying, stimulation fails to build to anything. I may never have an orgasm again. It's funny though: when you have no desire, you don't desire desire. I *have* experienced a couple of moments of tender yearning with both male- and female-bodied acquaintances - emotional instead of physical arousal. God, I am such a girl. And sexy may still come back. I haven’t given up hope yet.
But anyway, on to the really important question: how do I *FEEL*?!
Surgery has changed me. I find myself more than ever before floating serendipitously through life. Specifically, my sense of ambition has gone missing. All my life I have wanted to be famous. I have wanted to have my new book at the top of the New York Times bestseller list, or to sell out my one-woman show on a big city tour, or both. Furthermore, this wanting has had a resentful muttering tone...I'll show you, world...I may be invisible now, but someday you'll see just how fabulous I am, just you wait...gn mbl fbl ntl mbl.... I had a book proposal all ready to send out before I left for Montreal, figuring during six weeks at home I would have plenty of time to start pushing it. I haven't looked at it once. I just don't feel it.
I have two theories why:
1. With my testosterone down to almost nil, I am no longer motivated by the classic male logic that you should strive for the big time, because if you make it you can fuck whoever you want. Even when I was in its grip this idea always felt a little icky - remember, I was always a girl underneath - but it had force in my life. Needless to say, I'm *so* glad it's gone.
2. I didn't ever actually want to be famous; I just wanted to be alive, as myself, in the world. I wanted, desperately, to be *seen*, but I was self-repressing so hard that this could only come through the filters as a muddled desire for fame. And now, hey, look, I'm Lisa, all the time, for the rest of my life. I did it. I'm here. Everyone can see me.
Sooo, what about that whole GOTTA BE A STAR thing? Um...I dunno. Maybe not so much. Sounds like a lot of work and not much fun. One thing I am clear about: from now on I want to have as much fun as possible. Fun is extremely important. There must be fun.
Of course, I could possibly have fun writing a book and/or putting together a show, and maybe I could approach the work both in a more joyous and free way, and in a more mature and detached way, because my need to express my basic being in the world would no longer be tangled up in it. And, people have hit the big time with stuff they did just for fun. Richard Adams' Watership Down started out as a story he made up for his kids. Tolkien cared so little about the bestseller list that he almost wrote The Lord of the Rings in Elvish, in which case it would still be an incomprehensible manuscript lying on a shelf in the deepest dungeon of the Bodlean, waiting for some grad student to stumble across it.
Hm, what would be fun to write? This blog is fun to write, but so far it has escaped the notice of the editors over at The New Yorker. Oh well, there are other things too...but, I don’t talk about what I’m writing, or even whether I am; it sets up pernicious structures of feeling like I’ve promised something and now have to please someone.
Please yourself, is the (for me) radical, revolutionary new concept with which I have been tentatively experimenting, after a lifetime of utter self-effacement. At the tender age of fifty I am finally trying to learn how to answer the question, "What do I want?"
I have a fantasy which breaks taboos central to all the families and cultural circles in which I have ever lived. To indulge in this fantasy makes me feel transgressive and afraid, because it involves desires of which, from earliest childhood on, I have been taught to feel ashamed. It also makes me cry, because I've wanted it so hopelessly for so long.
My fantasy goes like this: there's a man (or otherwise masculine person) in the other room, reading the newspaper. I am in the kitchen, making a cup of coffee for him, the way I know he likes it. I bring it in and put it on the little table by his elbow. He looks up at me and smiles and gives my hand a squeeze and says, "Thank you, my dear." I smile back and lean down for a kiss. Then I go back in the kitchen and continue cooking brunch.
Whoop whoop whoop! Feminist, queer (in the man version, anyway), and anti-conventional alarms all going off! But there it is: sometimes I think I might just like to be (except for the married part, probably) somebody's wife.
Hey, it's not bad to do sweet little things for someone you care about, even if it does look like serving them. I can't believe I have to assert that, but such has been my upbringing and my romantic history to date.
Also, I will say in my defense that this imaginary perfect husband of mine is not my lord and master. He's my partner. A minute after the above scenario ends he gets up and comes in and chops veggies for the omelets I'm making for us both. Later on we'll work in the garden together - he'll heft the flagstones I can no longer heft (my hero!). Later on again we'll have friends over for a dinner we both cook. Later on again there will be, as Joni Mitchell puts it, so much sweetness in the dark. And through it all (so my fantasy goes) he cherishes me, telling me again and again in whatever ways come naturally to him that to him I am the most beautiful, most desirable woman in the world.
In short, he is a gentleman, I am his lady, and we are in love with each other. Isn't that a pretty fantasy?
Even if I was done I fear my dreamboat will be hard to find, and I'm not done. Here's the really tricky part: this paragon is also going to have to be at ease with the fact that for nearly half a century I had a male body and lived as a man. He can't love me because of it, though...although I guess it will be OK if he appreciates my history and struggle - how could that not be part of it? (I honestly can't see yet how this part works.) In any case, he can't ever want me to be a man again, not even for one second. And he's going to have to have the patience, creativity, insight, and wit to figure out how to love a woman who for the first fifty years of her life has only ever had secret crushes. I am so inexperienced and so very skittish. Loving me will be a challenge, a conundrum, and a gamble.
Yeah, a gamble; because I do think there is a payoff. I happen to think that I have some truly out-of-the-ordinary, extraordinary love to offer to the right person - to a smart secure sympatico grownup with unconventional and discriminating taste. If you appreciate natural femininity, you'd have to look a long time to find a woman more on-purpose and joyful about her femininity than I am. There's also all this devotion I've been saving up in my secret girl heart for all these years: first-love intensity aged through long but undaunted adversity, then sparked to effervescent life by the miracle of midlife revelation and release. Some lucky someone is going to give me that first kiss. (Or, nearly first...first since the surgery. Too bad, Jasper dear, we turned out to be so romantically incompatible.) That and what follows could be fucking intense, for both of us.
Another thought: I probably know more than any other woman you've ever been with about the burdens and paradoxes of being a masculine person in the world. Who better to appreciate your natural masculinity than someone who inhabited masculinity herself for four decades?
Besides which, you'll never anywhere find a finah desinah vaginah. You're going to have to not get your undies in a knot, though, if you can never beat me at chess.
All together, my love is a curious and rare vintage at long last come to maturity and ready for decanting. Could be vinegar, could be transcendent. I wonder if anyone I'd like to try it with might ever like to try it with me. Here's cautiously hoping...
Wednesday, July 11th, 2012
Two weeks since surgery, fifth day home, and I inhabit a profound placidity new to my experience. I feel languorous, fundamentally undriven, deeply calm. Post-surgery energy deficit? The (at last) natural plunging of my testosterone level to near zero? The end of decades of the unrelenting tension of projecting masculinity into the world? Perhaps all three. And of course it is summer and I am home alone, drifting through silent recuperative days. For the first time in my life, in a way, I am at rest. How odd.
When and how and why will I move again? I'm not sure. I feel that I am waiting to see who I am; from that will follow what I will do...when I feel a little stronger again.
* * *
Sunday, July 15th, 2012
I am not yet friends with my new parts. They still feel variously numb, itchy, prickly, tender and sore. They are still bruised and swollen, and still full of stitches, some of which will take up to two months to disolve. Also, my labia minora still look like an untreated wound. It's gory in there. Ew. I sent a couple of anxious phone-pictures to the clinic the other day and got back a reassuring e-mail: looks normal, you're healing on schedule; keep yourself very clean, keep dilating four times a day, and be patient.
OK. OK, I can do that. But I'll tell you what: I am *working* for this. Whatever good comes of it will be hard-won and well-earned. Fuck yeah.
There is one astonishing thing so far about my new parts: the endlessly renewable marvel of standing and looking at myself naked in the mirror. No more need to cover up. The man parts are gone! In their place, an incomprehensible miracle: the gentle bifurcated pubic swell, curving back and away. Every time I look, still, my brows contract in the middle. Really? I mean, *really*? It can't be. But it is...look again. *Really*? Better look again... Fifty years is a long time - it is going to take a while longer to believe this is true.
Then there is the joy of being testicle-free. No more testosterone! I did not fully realize, before, how much I was stoically enduring on account of that potent molecule. I have experienced, post-surgery, a sudden advance in the feminization of my whole body. My muscles have lost mass and gotten softer. My skin feels softer too. The body hair I shaved off right before surgery is growing back so fine as to be in most places effectively invisible. My little A-cup cuties have gotten noticeably fuller. Yes, yes, yes, to all these lovely changes.
Yesterday, looking at myself at various angles in two mirrors, I saw myself more completely as a woman than ever before: a tall, big-boned, broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped, thin-haired quirky-faced woman, but a woman nonetheless, and honey, not half-bad looking either. Chances of further surgery are diminishing...maybe just hairline and Adam's apple, my two most significantly masculine facial features, and no particular rush. I may not need even that, because I feel my femininity shining out of me more strongly all the time. It is in the limber grace my body continues to discover; it is in the way I can feel the animation of my face more fully reflecting the quicksilver dapple of my mood and mind; it is in the new softer music my voice has of late been finding. As I continue to open to the light, how can I fail to express "woman" more and more fully? I *am* a woman, and at last I am free to be. My joyful flowering continues. :-)
Blogging in the wee hours again. Why fight it? The ongoing post-operative discomforts aside, I'm feeling energized. It is, however, a little late to get clever with structure - I am already shifting on my knees even know, trying to ease the kink in my back - so straight chronological reportage and a hastily tweaked first draft is what you get, Bub.
I posted (relatively) early Friday evening but then still couldn't sleep, and ended up back downstairs again at about 3am Saturday morning (about 24 hours ago). The only other person up was Melanie, the night nurse. She was lying on one of the couches in the living room wrapped in a blanket, trying to catch a nap, but she sat up and talked with me, and we ended up having an intense hour-long conversation (both of us switching back and forth between French and English, which was cool.)
I learned that Melanie is in her thirties, has a teenage son and a 16-month-old daughter named for two different strong women in her family's history, that she just bought a house where she now lives with her boyfriend, and that in addition to working here at Asclépiade she is also back in school for further studies in nursing. If I had seen her once and you asked me to describe her ethnicity, I would have said she was black, but in fact she has a white Canadian mother and a black Haitian father, and thinks of herself (she says) as white. She believes she got the job here because she talked in her interview about the feeling she knows from her heritage and upbringing of being stuck between two worlds.
Melanie and I discussed the similaries of the false binaries and mixed-up and complicated in-betweens of race and gender in North American culture. We talked about different peoples' definitions of happiness and success. She recited a poem for me in French; I did my voice-work practice poem, Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" for her in English. I have met and connected with a lot of nice people here, but I think of Melanie as a new friend. Interesting that the one person I bond most closely with is not trans.
I was back in bed about 4:30a and slept until breakast, and the rest of Saturday was boring. Kept myself busy with French reading, walking, a DVD. Achieved the very important first bowel movement after surgery just in time to avert nursing intervention - I was starting to hear my name mentioned behind closed doors. A period of intestinal discomfort has followed; overdid it with the prune juice which is available at every meal...and that's enough mundane detail.
I went to bed early this past evening in hopes of actually sleeping when it was dark, but it was not to be; so up again to stand outside for a bit in the soft warm air of a Montréal summer night - and that's when the emotional dam burst. I started sobbing. Back inside, and thank goodness for Melanie, there with tissues and a long embrace. She also fetched me my ultimate comfort food of raisin cereal with soy milk, which I have been missing. Back to bed again for more crying. Not new reasons, just the real ones from all along, showing new facets at this phase of my transition. I really really really really really don't have to be a man any more. And I finally get to be loved for who I really am.
When I was talking with Melanie over comfort-cereal we compared emotional landscapes. I taught her the English word "rollercoaster." "I don't cry very often," she said, "but when I do..." she groped for a phrase in English. "C'est comme un orage," I said - It's like a storm. She nodded. And I thought again of Eve Ensler's marvelous monologue about what it is to be a girl.
I wrote two posts ago about the possibility of turning back toward masculinity now that I am safely on this side of the surgery, and that might still happen, but right now I feel the resurgence of my femme truth. I am an emotional creature, and this is happening. It's really happening. I get to live.
...to go until surgery, and I hang suspended between an old unsustainable life and a new unguessable one. It’s a squirmy time, seldom comfortable, but I feel a deep sense of rightness. Yes, it is drastic what I am about to do, but it is the right choice for me. Or the right gamble: there is no way to know what it will be like until it is done, and once it’s done there’s no turning back.
I also hang suspended between two fundamental modes of sexuality - yang and yin, out and in. I have to stop taking hormones next week, so the accoutrement, which the estrogen has rendered more or less inert for the past two years, will be once again serviceable, and I could, if I wanted, try to find someone to help me take it for one last spin. Last chance to be the one with the phallus. I’ve thought of it more than once...but, nah. The last several times I tried it felt awful, and once I thought I was going to die. I’m already *so* done with that.
Then there is the other half: soon I will have a vagina. By fall sometime I will be allowed to seek a moment, if I want, where the other person is the one with the phallus, and I am the one with the yielding inwardness. I haven’t the least clue what that will be like. I think it might be wonderful, but I can’t imagine. I will own to a slow-waking but powerful curiosity.
What I’m mostly looking forward to is the end of certain ongoing outrages. I look forward to the eradication of the unsightly bulge. I look forward to arousal without tumescence. I look forward to the permanent decrease in testosterone level: my body may become softer still, curvier still; more body hair may melt away; my face may become a bit more feminine. Oh, yes please, to all of these.
With arrangements pretty much made for this surgery, the implacable wanting part of my mind stirs again, and I find myself at odd moments already mulling the next step - breast augmentation? Facial surgery? Which first? How soon? Want want want want.... Dysphoria: proof that something can be intensely uncomfortable and incredibly boring at the same time. No fucking fun. I'm re-instructing myself about how important it is to take it slow.
It’s odd how big this step turns out to be. Afterwards I won’t look any different clothed, which is all anyone has seen for the past few years. I won’t sound any different. My mind will be the same (I assume, mostly). My daily life should be pretty much the same. Not like changing my name and pronouns, which altered every single social interaction. So what’s the big deal?
Well, on the personal level, I will have abjured maleness forever, in a way I have not yet; and the strong sense I have had for the past few years of romance and sex being on hold will be gone. That should be interesting.
Beyond that, I wonder about further social change. It’s a running joke in trans circles how often people ask or seem to want to ask, “Have you had the surgery yet?” Let’s push past the assumption of casual nosy prurience for a minute and look harder at that: people really seem to care. I get this sense of blunt atavistic sexual dynamics moving under our civilized veneers - alpha and beta, dominance and submission, the fucking and fuckable. For better or worse I am transitioning publicly: people will know I no longer have a penis or testicles. It will be fascinating to see how I am treated and how I feel in the world when that is true.
There is a third level of change: what I will call, for lack of a better word, the spiritual. My spirituality is not God-centered; it is based rather on a vision of existence as an elusive ever-evolving mystery and joy and beauty blooming out of the tension and play between fundamental opposites: all the colors between black and white; the spiral between straight line and circle; the evanescent present between the lost past and unknowable future; mortal life between eternal being and nothingness. If I do have a concept of God it is of one single Particle of Being which traces an impossibly complex path at an impossible-to-conceive speed through the infinity of empty space, leaving behind the afterimage of all that is, including us - and then existence consists of the God-particle being both there and not there at every point at every time, in an all-encompassing dance of paradox.
In this spiritual view, masculinity and femininity can perhaps be seen as opposite sides in a human form of this cosmic dance, as a being and nothingness each of which yearns towards the other, defines the other, completes the other. I'm not sure I completely subscribe to this formulation; and I also wonder whether it matters, or even makes sense, to say which one one is. Still, it feels natural to me to approach the dance from a feeling of what I understand “yin” to mean, and I know that to do so brings me joy.
On a Saturday in early May Elizabeth had a lunch date with Katz at the Green Elephant, loosely connected to the fact that they had both recently had birthdays. Elizabeth would be going on later to help run the fashion show fundraiser, so she wore clothes with color and texture beyond her usual muted palette, particularly a deep pink floor-length hippie-skirt which swirled pleasantly around her boots. It had a tiny jingle-bell on the waist-tie. On top she had chosen the form-fitting soft grey sweater she wore when she wanted to feel at least a little sexy, and she had picked out jewelry from the more ornate end of her available spectrum.
Lunch was organic and tasty, but incidental to the gushing out of a couple weeks’ worth of pent-up girl talk. Given the opportunity, Elizabeth realized she needed to detail the minutiae of an attraction. There had been promisingly awkward moments, but there were complicating factors...Katz listened patiently and offered encouraging remarks. Then Katz had a fascinating story to tell about family history, and before they knew it an hour and a half had gone by.
Katz treated, which was sweet of her, and Elizabeth invited her to come along on an errand to get some jewelry repaired. She had found out about a place on one of the many secret side-streets of Portland. It turned out to be a charming one-woman shop with display cases full of an impressive array, for one artisan, of styles, materials, and colors, as well as sea shells and art glass on commission. Remembering the ocean motif of Katz’s camp, where she had stayed one night the winter before when her power was out, Elizabeth bought a pretty strawberry periwinkle and then handed the bag to Katz outside the shop with a “Happy birthday.” They hugged.
A little further along they bumped into acquaintance X, a young trans man walking the other way with a friend. There was a minute of friendly banter, and then they parted ways. Around the corner, flushed with the success of present-giving and wanting to impress her friend, Elizabeth forgot her trans-etiquette and outed acquaintance X: “Would you ever guess he was born female?” Then she blushed and, as they walked on, squirmed about this foolish indiscretion.
They had a little more time and stepped into a high-end second-hand store. While Katz took a picture with her phone of a western shirt she thought her daughter might like, Elizabeth tried on a little black dress, made of soft stretchy fabric (good for a snug slimming fit over her big male ribcage) with a sleeve style she didn’t know the name for: two overlapping semi-circles of fabric parting over the shoulder. The skirt had the same style, which meant a helpful double layer of fabric in front camouflaging the unsightly bulge. The skirt stopped at mid thigh; between boot-tops and hem there was a fair stretch of naked leg, pleasingly smooth and rounded with the hormones. “I wouldn’t want to go to the pool hall in this,” she said, and Katz made a cautionary mom face. “No, you wouldn’t.”
Elizabeth bought the dress but did not put it on. Outside they said goodbye and Elizabeth continued on to Asylum, where preparations were under way for the fashion show. Workstudies Cat and Chelsea were there, whom Elizabeth loved for the unabashed pleasure they both took in girlhood. Both had dressed for the occasion - their own versions of the little black dress meme - and shyly she mentioned the contents of her bag, saying she might put the dress on later, for the dancing. The workstudies ordered her to put it on now. Elizabeth went to the women’s room, and with beating heart put on the dress in one of the stalls.
As with so many of the babysteps of transition, it turned out to be no big deal. She received a few compliments (always nice), and otherwise, no reaction. As the evening went on she checked her reflection often, unable to believe each time that the woman-body she was seeing was hers. Perhaps, it turned out, the slowest step of transition was the invisible internal one of really believing that it was actually working, that the world saw and accepted her as not just a woman, but a natural, even attractive woman. So hard to believe after so long in the dark.
The afterparty was a bust - no one showed up - but Elizabeth still enjoyed dancing in the disco lights, watching her shadow on the wall, continuing the long slow work of daring to begin to believe.
I'm turning 50 next Tuesday. If I figure out what that means, you can be sure I'll post about it. ;-)
In the meantime, video is now available online of a panel discussion I recently helped put together about the past, present, and future of the trans experience in Maine. The panel was presented by the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine on March 21st, 2012, on the USM Portland campus, and it went really well. My fellow panelists - Margaret Cook, Jamie-Lynn Emma Kane, and Alex Roan - were all excellent, sharing personal stories and general insights in a wide-ranging conversation which was variously funny, touching, profound, and inspirational. We also had some wonderful input from the audience.
Brief personal viewing notes: I hate my voice still. I have *got* to do something about that. But, I thought I rocked the dress pretty well...panel day turned out to be the first really warm day of spring I anticipated in this post.
Anyway, if you decide to check any of the video out, happy viewing! :-)
This morning I dreamed that my mother, alive again, had just survived an attack of acute appendicitis. My sister and brother and I flew to the hospital to see her. (In this dream I was a man again, as I still often am in dreams.) We found her in a wheelchair - in the gift shop, oddly - looking old and frail and grim. My sister greeted her, and my brother stood and was seen, but it was only when I knelt and she embraced me that she cried, and I knew it was because now that her eldest son was there to be strong for her, she could let go.
In this dream I again inhabited a specific psychological/emotional state which I used to experience all the time. In this state my shoulders, lower back, and jaw all clench slightly, not with anxiety, but readiness, and I feel tall and solid. Any sense of my own vulnerability or need goes away. I take a stoic breath and hold it, bracing to receive the impact of whatever hurt, my own or others’, I am about to absorb. And, I take a lofty detached pleasure in my own ability to endure. I feel noble.
I have always thought of this state as my personal version of the essence of maleness.
I think now it was this feeling I was referring to when, in the same journal entry back in November of ‘08 in which I first wrote “I just want to be a girl,” I also wrote “I am so sick of being strong.” I now read “sick of” not only as “weary of,” but also as “ailing on account of”, which provides another entry on the ever-growing list of possible answers to the question: why break free now, after so many years? How about, because I had played the selfless noble man role for so long that I was starting to die inside?
Yes. So, for the past three years I’ve rejected this noble man feeling as a part of an old bad way of living which was killing me.
But, I’ve also missed it. It was one of a small number of things I really liked, and which I thought was valuable, about being a man. Also, I have been struggling to find a definition of femininity which doesn't involve some form of weakness; but still, consumed as I have been by the crucial business of figuring out who I am as a woman, I had to push the man-feeling away.
Just recently, though, I have started to feel safe turning back toward that old male time and selectively reclaiming parts of it, and in that spirit I have been experimenting with reclaiming some form at least of that old sense of male strength. it’s more complicated, though, than just saying, OK, I’m calling that old mode "womanly" now. It’s not. Besides, there are aspects of who I have been becoming I definitely want to include in my revamped definition of strength: my impulse to nurture, my sense of resonating to the feelings of others like a sympathetic string, the way I’ve been able to let go into life as an emotional being...the power of flirting, even. These are forms of femininity which feel natural and good to me and which I plan to keep, thank you very much.
So, can one do both?
Well, the other day I was having a meeting with a volunteer at work, and for whatever reason she had a small emotional meltdown. Her lip began to tremble and the tears came. In response I felt that old noble tension come into my shoulders, that impulse to squelch my being and take her pain onto myself, whatever it was. I took the accustomed stoic breath...but then I let it out again. I’ve been practicing not holding my breath, and unclenching all those old male muscle groups too. “It’s OK, honey, I know how it is,” I said, which, by golly, I do. I melt down routinely now, every couple of weeks - usually in decorous private, but not always. I fetched her some tissues and then sat with her, breathing and relaxed, until she felt ready to go on.
I found a hybrid strength and helped someone - yay! And, it didn’t cost me my soul. Does that sound melodramatic? Yeah, maybe...but if you can’t feel the truth behind it, you don’t understand trans. Change or die, literally or figuratively, my friend Dar said recently. Yeah, that’s right. Change or die.
But, maybe, you don’t have to discard everything from that old life. Both-and, darling. These days I’m all about both-and.
I recorded the following audio file on my hand-held flash recorder during my commute the morning after posting the last post. It's a rebuttal of sorts, or a next step which, in retrospect, I was still working on when I wrote that last post.
Since I made this recording it has further occurred to me that "please yourself" can mean both "strive to reach your own standards," and simply "try to get what you really want," and I have been experiencing a curious new sense of freedom from worry about what other people think and expect of me. Perhaps a major step...the changing of a lifelong mental habit of existing in a perpetual state of anxiety to please others...hmm, we'll see.