Saturday, July 19, 2014

Twenty


AFTER a night of strange dreams, I ambled sleepily into the bathroom to do my first business of the day. Looking down, I awoke quickly. There was blood in the potty, and on the T.P., and a few drops across the floor as well. Bright, arterial.

Back to bed, gingerly.

"How are we doing?" asked Beloved, half asleep.

"Umm, some blood, not sure where it's from. Bright, fresh color."

She sprang into action, making sure I had raised hips and no cloth rubbing in sore places. She checked me with a flashlight. "OK, it's not rectal." Meaning no fistula, we hoped. "I'm thinking clitoris. There's a new flap of skin come loose that's not looking happy."

I wouldn't be going in to work.

"Let's move me into my room, where there's a phone I can reach. I'll be making some calls."

"So will I. We need a doctor to look at you."

The next two days I spent sleeping, drinking fluids, reading, making trips to the potty, and sleeping — much like a flu victim. The bleeding had quickly reduced itself to spotting, and ultimately disappeared entirely, in time for the doctor's visit late Thursday afternoon.

The nurse greeted me with a warm thank-you for the roses.

Roses? Oh, roses.

I had forgotten them — sent just as we were leaving, as a thank you for all that this clinic had done for their very first transwoman. Everything my situation had thrown at them they had taken in professional stride, in this small-town hospital frequented by loggers and mill-hands and their families.

I was weighed (heavy, too many good restaurants in Miami) and BP'd (still high, 150/88) and shown into the examination room.

"Would your friend like to come in and be with you when the doctor is here?"

Friend. There was going to be a lot of this in even the best parts of our future — the use of euphemisms to cover the awkwardness of our now socially taboo marriage.

"Actually, my ‘friend’ and I have been married for twenty-nine years and we have grandchildren — but, yes, she's my best friend in all the world. Please, I think we'd both like that."

The doctor was the elderly, kindly gentleman who had passed me for surgery, three weeks before. As he gently arranged me in the stirrups he kept up a reassuring patter with Beloved, who was instantly smitten. She loves old people; so do I. A good thing; since we're both practically there already.

I could barely feel the solicitous probing and poking. "This is nice, dears, very nice. Ah, silk! Very good work. I don't see any serious necrosis, really. There's good blood supply to everything. No sign of infection."

Snip. "How many stitches are there?" Snip. Snip.

"Well, it's kind of a continuous running stitch, but you could say, oh, thirty-five, forty."

Snip, snick. Snip.

I could feel my body relaxing as the silken constraints fell away.

"There, you'll like that much better, I expect."

He chatted with Beloved about her work and her impressions of the town as I dressed. He took our hands by turns graciously, and to me he added: "Thank you for the red roses, my dear; everyone was quite excited to receive them."

"Well, you've all been so wonderful to me."

"We try to treat everyone the same; but not everyone remembers us with roses. It was very touching."

Back home, I found I was really quite exhausted, and began a round of sleeping, drinking, reading and sleeping that would last right through the weekend. No more blood appeared; but an indefinable soreness set in, which, while it did not interfere with sleep or dilations or going potty, did give me trouble with standing up straight.

Some of the touchiness was the oddest sort of thing you could imagine. As if it were in parts I knew I no longer had.

I discussed this with Beloved, who agreed that this was the ghost-limb effect known to those who have suddenly lost an arm or a leg — just in a different place.

We expect that this will fade away over time.


A friend, who is expecting to go through all this in the near future, wrote to me: "So, what's it like on the other side?"

A bit grey, actually.

This could be just recovery from surgery, or from the disappearance of a couple of small, round chemical factories. It's what I wanted, but still takes getting used to. I'm experiencing something like a low-grade post-partum depression, which I expect to get over in due course — in the meantime I have re-filled a prescription that my doctor had wisely scripted for me, over a year ago, for just this sort of thing, and it does help.

I'm quiet, reflective, and, interestingly enough, not feeling especially feminine. Perhaps the HRT hasn't caught up. I may or may not be able to re-establish the equilibrium I had before the surgery — some do, some don't. It's a risky business.

I'm not shocked by looking myself over. What I have seems to belong to me. Yet I don't feel celebratory or relieved, or even what most other girls tell me — "complete." What I feel is sore and weak, and worried that all this will interfere with doing my job till I get better.

I told her, in my reply, that I wouldn't want to be anyone else, but that I don't recommend Gender Identity Disorder. Certainly not as a hobby. If you have it, deal with it, but for those on the borderline, I would say: be damned sure.

It's like this: life is work.

Life plus GID is work plus work.

Add SRS, what you now have is work plus work plus work.

Like with everything else monumental, such as deciding to go cruising to Samoa, you'll take some of your problems with you and acquire new ones as you go. When you reach your goal, it may not mean much to anyone but you, and you may accumulate enough losses along the way to question your original scheme.

You might shipwreck.

Or you could turn in your tourist's visa and get a passport from your new country.

Maybe that's all the surgery is, a passport.

Honored by most.

Naturalization.

Citizenship.

In the eyes of some.

But now that you're here, you've got some new wisdom; you're a voyager. You'll find that most people cannot relate to your journey and may even dislike hearing about it. You carry your ocean with you, and it's a big ocean; you can't give it to anyone "back home."

I told her, in closing: "In the end, what you do is get over the surgery, clean yourself up, and you go back to work, dear."

And if that's all we do, we were among the lucky ones.


"Look what I found," said Beloved.

"'Boyfriend'! Where was he?"

"In one of the suitcases all the time."

Meanwhile, my own dilators have arrived. "Boyfriend" was a loaner; he's the smallest size. I have to mail him back to Florida.

The new batch is ... impressive.

They already have names: Alberto, Bertrand, Carlo, D'Artagnan, Eduardo, Ferdinand, and Georges.

Ferdinand and Georges are ... huge. No way can I ever imagine myself using them ... I can't imagine anyone using them.

But I'm up to "Bertrand" now on a regular basis and have had some limited success with "Carlo."

This activity takes up twenty minutes of my mornings, the same with my early evenings, and again before bedtime. Followed by a salt sitz bath and cleansing with the disinfectant solution.

Needless to say, I have read a lot of books lately. Not much else you can do at these times.

I have a patch of tissue, in a very sensitive place, that didn't make it and it will have to slough off.

Presumably the capillary that bled a couple of weeks ago was its feeder and separated during the long flight from Charlotte to San Francisco. Too bad; but that's water over the dam.

Otherwise, things seem okay. I mean, Bertrand is actually kind of, umm, entertaining, and I had heard so many pain stories about dilating!

I had been hoping, by this time, to begin putzing about in the greenhouse. I have flats out there that I planted just before we left. Some of them didn't do anything and need replanting; the others did too well and need thinning.

But the weather has been relentlessly cold and wet, with snow on all the hills around, and I get home from work tired and needing to dilate and so I just wind up in bed, reading. I'm gaining weight, too, especially on weekends, waiting for my life to reboot.

Sometimes I sit in the dining room watching the bird feeder. We're getting doves, Oregon juncos, chickadees, blushing sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, purple finches, and white-crowned sparrows.

Occasionally they scatter and a Douglas squirrel lands, spread-eagled, in the middle of the feeder, which is the roof of our wellhouse. I tap the window and the squirrel flies off into the nearest tree, which is far enough away that I'm impressed with the aerobatics.


This morning, I went into the ladies' room and found myself in a stall with a broken door latch. Someone might accidentally walk in on me.

I didn't move to another one. For once there was nothing to worry about.

The little bit of blood that turned up the day after we got home may have been the supply to the lower third of a Sensitive and Important Area. That third died — turned white. There was also a road-kill odor that I could detect whenever I went to the ladies' room.

I went to the doctor and she agreed the damage was too extensive to ignore. "You might slough that off, but I think I'll send you to the wound clinic."

She looked me in the eye. "How are you doing? Sorry I missed you right at the end there, but you seem to have done well with my colleague."

"Yes ... in fact, he was so sweet when he was taking out the stitches that I think Beloved kinda fell in love with him."

She laughed. "He has that effect. Very intuitive; takes time to get more of a sense of who you are and takes that into account. But you: you're good? Happy?"

"Very much so."

"You look it, too. You're looking really good, honey, and I like the new hairdo."

"Thank you."

"I don't like that your blood pressure is back up. What did we have you on before?"

"An ACE blocker. I'm thinking the Spironolactone masked the situation and now that I'm not on it, the BP jumped back."

"I think so, too. Let's put you back on that, just for the blood pressure, and come and see me in three weeks."

She paused a moment. "You know, you have taught me a lot. Next time I have someone like you, I won't be so much at a loss as I was when you told me. Thank you."


At the Wound Clinic I met a new doctor whom I liked right away. She found my situation interesting, and asked about the surgery in a tactful manner. We discussed inversion, which tissues were used to create what, and what my expectations might be.

She got me up into the stirrups, brought over a spot lamp, and looked about.

"Yes, this needs to go. I'm guessing there are no nerve endings left alive in the white stuff. I'd like to just excise it right now, with your permission."

"You definitely have my permission!"

There was, as she had predicted, no pain.

"In case you were wondering, dear, you do absolutely look like a girl down here. Really nice work."

I made a mental note to pass that on to Dr. Reed.

"Now, here," she said, "Is what I want you to do. This stuff here is a gauze strip soaked in petroleum jelly. I'm cutting off a strip with these little scissors, a little under two and a half inches long by under half an inch high. See? And then take one end of it and hold it here" ... applying it to the Sensitive and Important Area ... "and wrap it all the way round, like a turban. Got that?"

"Wow, that feels way better already."

"Right. Wounds want to heal. They like dark, moist conditions for that, so we're getting this away from not just abrasion but drying air as well. Put a mini panty-liner in your panties to hold that in place, and you shouldn't have to change it more than about three times a day."

"Okay."

"Here's some sterile gauze, here's the scissors, this" ... handing me a foil packet ... "is the cream I want you to use. My husband," she smiled, "is a Cajun, and the pharmacist who invented this stuff is a Cajun. He's trying to rebuild his factory after the hurricane...so that's it! I'll see you in one week."

"Thank you."

"A pleasure."

I hit the street already walking more comfortably than at any time since the surgery. I took inventory. Sun: shining. Trees: swaying. Birds: singing. Girl: gonna be okay.


We've finally got in a patch of really decent weather. Beloved has taken over the mowing during my convalescence.

"I feel great. I could mow the lawn." I bounced around the living room for emphasis.

"Dr. Reed said no heavy lifting. And stop that."

I froze in mid-pirouette.

She doesn't have enough shoulder — a touch of arthritis — for giving a lawnmower a cold start, but enlisted me to crank the infernal thing, then shooed me away.

"Go play! Take a walk or something."

Yeesh.

But I'm not that comfortable walking along our semi-country roads by myself. Everyone here does these walks in pants, except me; in pants I feel self-conscious because they create mixed gender signals on my angular body, and in a dress I feel vulnerable alone.

I can only walk so far at a time, too — though this is improving. Yesterday, at work, I wore a step counter, and the count for the whole day was over 6,000. Who says librarians sit still all day? But serious hiking is beyond me yet — things rub up against each other that haven't sufficient protection this early in their little lives.

I thought I might sun myself a bit, so I ran into the house for my swimsuit, a black one-piece of elastic fabric.

Mirror check.

Ahh! That's how I've always wanted to look ...

A little late in life (sigh). But better late than never.

I hadn't been in the chaise lounge very long when I became aware of tension in the air. Beloved's not used to lawnmowers, and I'm not used to lounging while someone else does the grunt work. I felt an urge to kibitz, and she could feel me feeling that urge.

So I went down to the garage and got out my little kayak.

Because this boat weighs less than twenty pounds, it's safer for me to handle, just now, than the lawnmower. I can pop it into the back of the station wagon and there's no need to lift it overhead for a tie-down.

I stopped at the local country store for a new fishing license. The lady behind the counter, from whom I have made purchases for over twenty years, couldn't quite place me as I've only been in the store as a woman a very few times.

"You've had a license in Oregon before?"

"Yes, for decades."

She typed from my driver's license into the Fish and Game computer.

"Oh, look at that!" She turned the monitor so I could see the record.

There, in the field marked "sex," was the word "male."

She laughed. I joined in, though a bit apprehensively.

"Sometimes they just hit the wrong button. Lemme fix that for ya." Click.

It was that easy, for once.

"Need any steelhead tags?"

"No, I don't like to bother the wild fish, I just catch stockers."

"Oh, a girl who knows her fish! Okay, here ya go, and good luck!"

At the reservoir, I found there was a regatta in progress. High school and junior high rowing teams were competing in heats of four boats, each with its own motorboat in attendance, and an official boat watched over all. Orange floats were posted at intervals across the water.

I stopped by the park keeper's house.

"Is it okay to go out? Looks like the water's been pre-empted."

"Nahh, it's okay. You know how to stay out of trouble anyhow."

"Why, thank you, sir. Would you like to take Little Eva out for a spin?"

"Heh, heh heh, maybe when the water warms up. If I’d roll that thing over now, I'd have me a heart attack. You go and have fun, now."

''K. Bye!" I waved to Mrs. Park Keeper over his shoulder, sitting on the front porch, knitting. She waved back.

I saw there was some wind, but not too much chop, and plenty of sun. Settled into my seat and pushed off with the paddle blade.

I did drop a line in the water, from habit more than anything. This first day I had a few bites but, thoroughly distracted, didn't set hook in time, and so mostly just paddled. In the sitting position, legs extended, I could tell that my recently rearranged bits were under no strain at all, though I didn't feel like paddling hard — a leisurely stroke was called for. I putzed up to the dam, seeking smooth water in the massive concrete structure's wind shadow, watching an osprey hovering in the faster air above the floodgate crane.

Drifting back toward the boat basin, I ate lunch and played around in the heavy wakes of speedboats.

Some things were notably different than before. I had been a dedicated kayak fisherman in the bygone era and, by carrying a spare empty bottle with me for umm, elimination purposes, could stay on the water for over four hours at a time. Now, as a kayaking woman, I find things are just a bit more ... technical. Within a couple of hours I had to head in and run for the ladies' room at the boat basin.

While I was thus occupied, a shore-fishing family had stopped to admire Little Eva, drawn up on the beach.

"That's a cute little canoe-thingy you got there, ma'am," said the father as I walked up. His daughter, a beautiful wind-tousled blonde of about nine, leaned against him, rod in hand.

"How did you folks do today?" I asked.

"Oh, we got two. Two little ones, just big enough to keep," he replied.

"Bet you caught them both, didn't you, dear?" I asked the girl, with a conspiratorial smile.

She looked up at him, as if checking his ego, and, reassured, nodded to me with a twinkle in her eye.

We all laughed.

It's ... nice to come home.




THE BEGINNING

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Nineteen


O-O-O-KAY, it's Tuesday, seven days post-op. I have been living the life of Ms. Riley, lounging about eating semi-sweet Dove chocolates and soufflés and such, watching DVDs of Angels in America on the laptop and occasionally hobbling to the potty to empty the pee bag.

This morning, things changed. We got up fairly early and walked up to the clinic to have stitches and packing out.

Beloved checked out the artwork in the waiting room, whilst I checked out the latest in interior decorating ads, sitting a bit to one side to avoid putting my weight down in the middle.

Anne was concerned. "That's too nice a dress. You could bleed on it."

"What, I paid only ten dollars for it. I've earned pretty."

Nevertheless, I changed out of the dress into a robe and hopped onto the table. Bandages were ceremoniously and thoughtfully peeled away.

The stitches and packing being drawn out were not especially painful, more ... odd ... than anything. Like being wormed. A cold drench followed by a warm drench provided the messiness. Betadine does stain things!

Then Dr. Reed came in. "You're a bit swollen, so we're not pulling all the stitches today, sweetheart. Make an appointment at your clinic, soon as you get home. Right? Let's see what's going on here ... O.K., now this is a stent, we've ordered you some but you can take this one with you, but mail it back, please."

He asked Beloved, and to the best of my ability, me, to watch and understand the next part. "You have a little lip, here, see, and so this goes in at a thirty degree angle, but only about this far. That's important. Really important. Because right through a very thin wall, just a skin, really, is your rectum, and if you manage to crash through here you will get a fistula and then none of us is going to be happy."

He tilted the stent down. "See how this is level with your back? It's parallel. Don't watch me, watch what I'm doing, dear."

I had been trying to read lips. Not a good time to be deaf!

After a bit, he showed me the smooth plastic rod.

"See, we got all the way to here. That's not bad. If you work at it you can get depth maybe another two inches."

He looked at Beloved. "She's got to do this, five times a day, twenty minutes at a time. It's going to hurt but she's got to stick to it, or things will close up and we'll all be right back where we started. Practically." He smiled. "I made a funny."

Anne added instructions for cleanliness, and provided us with an irrigation syringe, attachments, and recipes. We would need to stop by the pharmacy for ingredients: sterile jelly, disinfectant solution.

Good-byes were clearly heartfelt and heartwarming. These are good people.


Back at our room, we both collapsed. Beloved had had a rougher morning than I, as I'm rather dramatic when in discomfort, and she had had to hold my trembling hand, not knowing that I wasn't really doing all that badly.

We sorted that out, and she encouraged me to change into a more expendable nightgown. "Here's your stuff. If you do it twice before ten this evening, I gather that's a sufficient start."

"But, I'm so sore. How am I gonna do this?"

"Because you have to. You said so yourself."

I looked at her. No mercy.

She tipped her head a little to the left and let her eyes twinkle. "All the other girls who have ever had to do this are with you now. I know you're not going to let them down."

My first try: knees up, the way I had seen it in pictures of friends of mine — two inches.

I logged on to Andrea James' definitive website. We looked up Dilation and I read Beloved the advice there.

"She says try it legs down. And Kegel a few times first, get relaxed."

"OK. Here's Boyfriend, all clean. No hurry, you have all evening."

Legs down worked. Four and a half inches for twenty minutes.

Ooooooooouch ...

Somehow I had expected that after the operation, there would be a complicated phase, then a simpler phase, then a life of simplicity. In fact, things were simple after the operation, then became less so, and now, eight days later, have blossomed into full complexity.

I started out with a lot of bandages on me and packing inside me, and a very large-capacity pee bag hung near me which was emptied at regular intervals. All I had to do was drink a lot and eat puddings and sleep; the rest would be taken care of.

But as my strength builds, so does my independence, and as my independence builds, so does the need for decision-making: where does this thing go? How do I deal with that stuff? Can I make it to the store and back before I have to empty my thigh bag? Am I going to have to stand up in the ladies' room to empty this thing, and will anyone think it's a guy in there?

I've gone from a near-blissful state of infancy in the earliest days of the week to something like a portable E.R. in which I'm both the intern and the accident victim.

But it does mean I don't have to lie around in bed while an interesting and very scenic cityscape happens just out of reach.

Beloved drove me to the beach. I got to see the range of different neighborhoods from Bal Harbour, through Surfside, to North Beach. The shops all seemed careworn and under-shopped. Many of the apartment buildings, still hampered by hurricane damage from more than six months ago, were under half-hearted reconstruction.

Men and women of all colors and builds, most talking into cell phones, cheerfully jaywalked or parked convertibles beneath No Parking signs. I saw few children. Every third vehicle seemed to be a police car, each from a different jurisdiction. I couldn't understand why they weren't arresting everyone in sight, all of whom seemed to be walking, biking, or driving illegally.

We discovered we hadn't brought change for parking, which rather nixed the beach visit for us, even though none of the cars parked at meters (and there seemed to be no spaces without meters) had any time left — a sea of meters all registering Violation with one mighty voice.
So we elected to go the deli at the big market in Surfside.

This supermarket looks like a Mission Stucco office building, and has a parking garage underneath instead of all around it, so that when we first looked for it we drove past it four times before acknowledging it to be the place we were looking for. This time we were able to reach it in only three tries. We might have done better, but the one-way streets require memorization in advance.

While Beloved placed our orders — an Italian sub for me, and a Greek salad for her, I found myself dancing in the aisle to the Caribbean muzak, skipping around nervous, preoccupied grocery carts and weaving my arms in a sensual pattern. This was a behavior that had hit me in the early days of estrogen. I had put on my first post-op patch this morning, so perhaps the dose was beginning to reach my psyche.

As it happened, there was a tall, regal and lovely black woman in the aisle who was doing exactly the same thing. We found each other, and weaved our arms in the air, laughing, and then, ever so briefly, held hands.

As she moved on to the bread racks, and Beloved, smiling with just a little embarrassment, moved away to the cheeses, I continued to shimmy in front of the sandwich bar, and a little old European-looking gentleman with raised eyebrows passed me with his grocery cart. Something told me to check on him after he had gone by, and sure enough, he had stopped, blocking traffic, and was looking back — he had clearly just done a bootie check.

And was apparently happy with what he'd seen.

In tribute he did a few dance steps of his own, with one hand in the air, like a flamenco dancer. Then we both smiled and he passed on down toward the veggies.

Huh! Probably married ...

It was time to go — and just in time; my thigh bag was filled to capacity.

I was worn out from this first outing, and slept a bit after dinner and the complex evening routine: dilation, douche, changing over to the bigger night bag on the catheter, pulling and replacing tape, inspecting wounds and coating them with disinfectant.

I awoke to find Beloved standing by my bedside, smiling. I reached up and caressed her body, and surprised myself by sensing a rush — somewhere deep inside me — such as I hadn't felt in a long time.

"Whoah! Did you feel that?" I asked.

"How could I not?" She tousled my hair.

"We're going to have to do something about this ... "

"Hey! All in good time..."

After a week, Dr. Reed regarded me as ready to travel — with important caveats. I was to protect the clitoris, which is not yet hooded and also lacks labia minora (he uses a two stage surgery). I must religiously use the stents — five times a day, twenty minutes each. The body seeks to close wounds. I must end each day with a thorough irrigation using his disinfectant recipe.

And I must avoid — let's call it overexertion — for six weeks.

The hotel where we were staying had understood me to have reserved the room only until the 25th (my own recollection was the 28th), so we needed a place to stay for three more days. On the Internet I checked around and collected ten telephone numbers of likely places to stay. It being Spring Break season in South Florida, only one of them had a room for us, twenty-five miles north in Hollywood. Beloved packed all our belongings, and me, into the rental car and we departed the Islands by way of U.S. A1A.

The motel, really a hotel, turned out to be a delightfully strange urban pastel artwork, twelve blocks from Hollywood Beach, done in what its brochures call Mediterranean Revival, which means there are fake rock grottoes and fake wall cracks everywhere. We discovered a pedestrian bridge across the alley into an office building with a central atrium, with wrought-iron railings and graceful woodwork. Walking through the gallery, one finds a variety of one-horse shops, such as a waxing parlor, and open-air bars and restaurants opening onto Hollywood Avenue, with more restaurants and shops in all directions.

The tempting shopping district proved my downfall. At my instigation, we lunched at one of the sidewalk restaurants, listening to a live jazz combo and lingering over cheesecake, then shopped in a variety store that featured a wide selection of intriguing antique jewelry.

Afterwards I took to bed immediately, but as the evening and the next day progressed, it became increasingly clear that I had not protected my poor clitoris enough. I lay still all the last day, watching moronic television programming and napping, hoping to recover enough from the abrasion to make the trip home without further damage.

Tuesday the 28th dawned as beautifully as all our other South Florida dawns; Beloved rose and made ready for her day, and packed, and I carried out a dilation, aware that I would not have another opportunity until midnight, Pacific time, sixteen hours away at best.

We drove north on what we had understood to be U.S. One until it petered out in a residential neighborhood, then backtracked took the Interstate around the airport to its entrance from the other side. We had allowed plenty of time for this sort of thing. Our strategy was to check most of our baggage, to carry ample water, to request a wheelchair at all airports, and to put up my feet on seats at all opportunities.

These ideas worked well in the early going, and we both caught up on sleep on the morning flight to Charlotte, North Carolina.

But the next plane was a disaster for us.

It had narrow seats, in cramped rows, three to a side of the single aisle. On it we flew to San Francisco, where a storm had put many arrivals in disarray, spending more than six hours in those seats. We arrived dehydrated and disoriented, both feeling as if we had come down with the flu, and I had begun — ever so slightly — bleeding.

Worse, there was now a change of service provider, on a concourse over two miles away, with a flight scheduled to depart in twenty minutes. We found an emergency shuttle that actually runs across the runways among the jets, fuel trucks and baggage wagons and made the gate with one minute to spare — only to find that our flight home was also running late — as it was a regional turnaround flight that, in its capacity as an arrival, had also been delayed!

This seemed like luck, but now began a strange dialogue between Beloved and the airline officials, which I had become too hazy with fatigue, and now pain, to follow well. I was now listed as a wheelchair passenger, and the officials were under the strong impression that, to put me on the regional flight, they must send me to a gate equipped with an elevator, so that I could be shuttled to the plane and carried — step by jouncing step — onto the aircraft. The gate in question was the one from which we had just been shuttled — miles away. If we hurried, they intimated, there might just be time!

Beloved went in search of a wheelchair and attendant to get me back whence we had come. She parked me by a small eatery with a railing, but at length my legs failed me and I wound up in folded posture, on the floor of the busy concourse. This attracted the interest of the hundreds of passersby, some of whom offered assistance, but I assured them a chair was on the way. Ultimately — after what seemed a very long interval to me and some of my well-wishers — this proved true.

We rolled, rolled and rolled — to the gate on the other concourse — to be told, along with another wheelchair passenger, that the officials at the regional gate were all mistaken — the plane would be large enough for direct access and the elevator and shuttle would not — could not — be utilized. We must go back ... quickly ...

We arrived at the regional gate, for the second time, just in time, and boarded in short order. Our pilots, flight attendants and fellow passengers being nearly all Westerners, we immediately felt much more at ease than we had in the cross-country aircraft. Beloved asked to sit with me — our seats had been separated by the boarding passes — and this was cheerfully arranged. I had a window seat, a thing which I love — even at night — and as we rocketed out over the Bay, I craned to see the magical golden lights of San Francisco and of the Northern California coastal communities. Orion, in the distance, threw his leg across the dark Pacific Ocean.

In our home town, of course, it was raining hard — icy, glutinous drops pooling onto roads and fields, with temperatures in the low forties. Beloved waited for the luggage — a seemingly hopeless activity, given all the confusion — but every piece arrived! — and bundled it all, and me, into our very own car to drive to our very own home.

As Beloved drove, I talked, in an effort to make sure she would stay awake.

"You know... You could have divorced me. You had every right. And instead, while holding down a difficult and demanding job, you've presided over my counseling sessions, my electrolysis, my doctor visits, kept track of all my documents, seen to the packing, driven me to the airport, taken care of the tickets and boarding passes, shepherded me across the country and back, overseen my medication, fed me, washed me, kept me warm, held my hand — even found me my contact lens when I dropped it."

She looked over at me, amused. "So?"

"And you're driving me home. In the rain, at like three in the morning, and you hate driving at night."

"Mm? And?"

"Well, on this trip, you have, you know, really — ahem — earned your keep for life."

"Yep. Sure have." We hit the almost deserted freeway. She shifted into fifth.

At the house, Beloved found the key, turned on the lights, let me in, immediately put me to bed with a hot pad, brought in the luggage and went through it for Boyfriend, the loaner dilator. After what seemed a long time, she came to me, crestfallen.

"It's not there. It's not there! I've looked everywhere — every pocket, all the plastic bags."

"Umm, how about the lube jelly? Did you come across that?"

"No, but we have more."

"OK, if they're both gone, it's my fault. I used them after you had us all packed. So they will have gotten tangled up in the sheets while I was looking at the cartoons and, uhhh ... by now, been found and thrown out by the maid."

"Oh, great."

"Well, I'm sure they know what to do with used dildos."

"We'll have to buy Dr. Reed a replacement."

"Or maybe ship him the small one from the new set. Meanwhile — have we got anything we can use? Till the set gets here?"

She scoured the house and came back with a basket full of candles — the best kind for the purpose — hand dipped tapers. I picked through them.

"This one looks pretty close to Boyfriend's size. But, umm, I think my friends tell me I should use a condom to keep the wax out."

Neither of us has ever owned a condom.

Beloved thought for a moment. "Wait a bit! I have just the thing." She went away and came right back.

In her hand she held a box of rubber examination gloves. "Just put the candle in a finger!"

Still earning her keep.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Eighteen


MONDAY. At nine, we rose and dressed and walked up to the clinic, two blocks west of the hotel.

As I opened the door to the waiting room, I was immediately thrilled to see all the famous paintings.

Dr. Reed is a competent copyist, with a trained eye and hand. When not fixing people, he goes to such places as the Museè d'Orsay and brings home fascinating canvases – famous works, mostly by Impressionists – with his own signature. These he hangs on the walls of the clinic, a feast for the eyes of his patients. It feels both self-assured and generous.

They were terribly busy – people running back and forth. It seemed like an E.R. I caught my first glimpse of a compact, bald man with a commanding and energetic presence. He practically ran to the inside counter of the clinic, instructed Anne, the Person in Charge, on something, and turned away. As he did so, he glanced into the waiting room, stopped and returned to Anne. "Is that Risa out there?"

"It is."

He added more instructions, and whipped away down the hall. Anne entered the waiting room and spoke with us. "Have you started your prep? You didn't eat breakfast this morning, did you?"

"Umm, Dr. Reed said on the phone, 'Come in at 9:15 Monday and we'll start your prep.' So I was expecting, like, an exam or something."

"That will happen, but prep starts first thing in the morning. Didn't you see this?" She handed me a sheet of paper with cryptic instructions on it.

"It's the first time I've seen this one. I think."

"Well, run right over to the pharmacy and get your magnesium citrate, honey. Don't dally along the way, either. Do you have your Neomycin and Flagyl?"

Beloved took the paper. "Yes, and I'll keep track of her."

"Good girls! This is great. Great! Sorry we're so awfully busy; bring her back at noon, O.K.?"

Between the clinic and the inn there is a block of bistros and shops, and one very tiny pharmacy. Here we stopped for the magnesium citrate. The proprietor handed me a small green bottle.

"That's it?"

"Yes, ma'am. One unit. Half now, half later."

"All the stories I've read, everyone says it's a gallon."

"That's the old way. Still bad tasting, though. Refrigerate; makes it a little better."

We went home to our little room and assembled all the gear. Green bottle, two pill bottles, a row of Fleet Enema bottles, fruit juices. Beloved planned her campaign and made her first move.

"O.K., drink half of this now." She handed me the green bottle.

I wandered out onto the dock and looked across the water. A pelican drifted out from under the bridge and flapped up some ten feet into the air, then smashed down next to a piling. When its head came up, it was gulping down a fish. The pelican looked over at me from its magisterial right eye.

"Right. You're saying, if I can do it, you can. Yes?"

Now the pelican swung its long head round and fixed me with its left eye.

OK. Bottoms up.

Not bad, really.

Kind of an Eastern-European-lemon-soda flavor. With old tennis shoes.

At noon we went to see Dr. Reed, but he wasn't ready for us until one. We had nothing else to do, though, so we memorized a few magazines.

By the time he called us into the office, I had over-warmed all the chairs, and was leaning against the arm of the couch that Beloved was sitting in, reading something to her from Time.

"Careful," he said, "Theoretically that couch arm could break."

Damn. Always good at those first impressions, Risa.

In Dr. Reed's office, with its expansive view of the surrounding town and the beach hotels in the distance, we answered a few questions, then Beloved excused herself to run get the Neomycin and Flagyl from our room. It was time for the next dose; I'd have to take them during the visit.
Dr. Reed busied himself with my medical records.

He's a lithe, spry man, maybe a little older than me, with expressive eyes and a shining head. Dapper is a word that comes to mind. Abrupt might be another, but only if tempered with gracious. He's a mixture of wisdom and curiosity, for whom the world's mysteries are beautiful when unsolved and still beautiful when solved. I began to relax. Then ...

"So where are the X-rays?"

"They said they would send them both fax and on a CD."

"There's nothing here. And the PTT and the PT and the Platelet Count."

"They assured me they did send them. I'll see if I have them here. Uhh, when Beloved gets back. My copies are in that black bag she had with her."

He placed a call to the little country hospital. While this was going on, tears welled up in my eyes. Am I going to be stopped here, by these wretched pieces of paper everyone promised me, at the very finish line? I reached for a tissue.

Dr. Reed spotted me. "Have you got sinus?"

"No! I'm just having a kind of panic attack."

"Panic attack? We can't have those; if you're afraid of the procedure, we won't be able to proceed."

"No, no, it's just the opposite. I'm upset because the records aren't here and I tried so hard to get them all to you..."

I looked down at the tissue twisting and ripping in my hands. "I had to work so hard to get here."

His eyes softened. "Dear, sometimes they lose things, sometimes we lose things. But we have to be very cautious and make sure nothing is unknown that can be known about your present condition."

Beloved came in. I pounced. "Quick, the gray pouch!"

"Uhh, what?"

"It's in the bag here."

I rummaged around inside and came up with it. Beloved shook out four pills and opened a water bottle as I flipped through the copies I had been given at the country clinic, with snow blowing by outside, now so long ago as it seemed to me.

"Here's X-ray."

"Great. That looks beautiful, sweetie."

I held out the PT and PTT, and presumably Platelet.

"Slow down," he said. He was taking notes on the X-rays.

He took the other sheets, scanned them briefly, and looked up.

"Well, let's go across the hall and do a brief examination."

Beloved and I were left briefly alone in a patient examination room. She tied me into a gown.

After a couple of knocks, Dr. Reed came in.

He took a blood pressure. "Honey, what's your usual BP?"

"One-twenty over eighty."

"You've got one-sixty over ninety."

My jaw dropped. "Wha ...? No way! I've been 120/80 for three years now."

"Let me check the record again."

While he was across the hall, Beloved and I looked across at each other. I had had no idea I was that stressed.

Dr. Reed bustled back in. "Yes, that's what they tell me, one-twenty-eighty. You do want to do this, right?"

"Yes. Yes, I do."

"O.K. Well, you're gonna be fine, honey. Now lie down, on your back. Please." With that dropping inflection polite New Yorkers use for the last word of a request. A gentleman.

Maybe I should relax. It seems like it's really going to happen.

Much of the rest of the exam was routine — "cough." "Exhale." — and the like — but he did a couple of things that were new to me. One was that he took a very specific measurement. The other was that he commented on the genital electrolysis.

"Perfect," he said.

Back in his office, Dr. Reed seemed much more expansive and welcoming. We chatted awhile – longer than I would have expected, after such a busy morning – and he showed us the prep room, the O.R. — very nice, as small O.R.s go – and sent us back to our den, giving Nurse Beloved the necessary instructions along the corridor. "Lots of water – lots of juice. She needs potassium, her potassium is low. Apple juice. Orange juice. Vegetable juice. And then nothing after midnight. O.K. See you in the morning. Talk to Anne before you go."

Anne swiveled in her office chair toward the counter. "9:15 tomorrow." She smiled.

Tuesday, March 14. I put on a simple muumuu that Beloved had bought for me at the grocery store, with nothing on underneath, and brushed my hair, and did without makeup or jewelry. We walked up to the clinic and rode up the elevator with other people who were on their way to work. It was as though we were on our way to work, too, which of course we were.

Dr. Reed, already in his O.R. greens, found us in the waiting room and led us to his office. There were a few last documents to sign, and then he set up the famous Confessional Video Camera for the taped conversation.

"Now, Risa, you understand what it is we're going to do here?"

"Gender Reassignment Surgery, by penile inversion."

"And you understand that it's irreversible?"

"Yes, sir."

Things seemed to be in a whirl after that.

I changed into a gown with Beloved's help, and walked down a short, brightly lit corridor. There were an anesthetist and two male nurses, and Anne, all dressed for sterile work, and I was led to the table and hopped onto it as invited. An IV was inserted into my right arm, and Anne gave me a "dry shave."

I chatted with the anesthetist the while, talking of my experiences working in the O.R. of a primate center, three decades ago.

And then both of me fell asleep.


When I came to, it was past four o'clock in the afternoon. I was in one of the three skinny beds, gurneys really, in the recovery room. A monitor to my left chirped with each of my heartbeats.

Dr. Reed arrived, looking pleased with my condition, and introduced me to my night nurse, a retired LPN whose expansive, comforting presence seemed to fill the room with warmth and light.

Beloved came in.

I looked at her. "You are so beautiful, to me," I sang, in a weak, gravelly voice.

We held hands for quite some time, and meanwhile she conferred with Dr. Reed and the night nurse, When all matters seemed settled, Beloved retired to the hotel for a well-earned night's rest, and Dr. Reed retired to a bedroom he occupies during a patient's first night of post-op.

Anything happens, I'm right here." He pointed to the bedroom door.

The nurse checked my vitals, and we settled in for a long night. I slept sometimes, and lay awake sometimes, and chatted with her a lot. She's retired. A widow. Takes on temporary assignments "so as not let my head get rusty." She likes fishing. She has traveled to many countries, but not Africa. "Too many diseases, too much fighting. It don't feel right to just visit."

I suggested she start with Botswana. "They got control of their own diamonds. So it's completely different there."

"See, there, that's the whole problem. Nobody has ever given Africa an even break."

"No, nobody ever has."

At no time did my pain level go above four on a scale of ten. She gave me two shots to get me through the night.

With a little effort, I was able once to raise my head up to get a sense of my changed landscape. Dressing, blood bag, pee bag were mostly what I could see. But, yes, some hint of things to come — I was going to look all right in a bathing suit.

So little difference really. What, I wondered, is the world so hysterical about?


In the wee hours of the morning, Beloved found me in bed, reasonably rested. Dr. Reed bustled in, and many things seemed to be happening at once. Another surgery was scheduled for nine, so my twenty-four hours were shortened by a few. It was 6:45 A.M. With a few directions as to how to carry my pee bag and catheter, so as not to get them tangled in the wheels, I was helped into a wheelchair for the trip back to the hotel.

This was the hardest part of the journey for me so far. I took bumps in the sidewalks very poorly — shrieked, in other words — and the two blocks felt like two miles of torture.

What witnesses would have thought, seeing a yowling old lady in a wheelchair pushed by three tormentors through a parking lot at dawn, I don't know, but apparently the streets were completely deserted.

I was helped into bed without too much effort. We were given our instructions as to the bags, food and drink, exercise, and massage, and farewells were said. Dr. Reed turned at the door, palm fronds swaying behind him. "I'll be back every morning for a week."

Time for some reflection and recuperation. With luck, maybe even a little boredom.

The ever-steadfast Beloved stood by the bed. "Well, dear, anything you want?"

"Is it too soon for, umm, vanilla pudding?"

"Solids after four in the afternoon."

"Nnh. Cranberry juice?"

"You bet."

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Seventeen


I APPEARED at the Heart Center at 6:30 in the morning as scheduled.

"And you are...?"

"Risa Stephanie Bear."

We did birth date, address, all that, and she waved me to a seat. I waited. There were about five other people.

The intake nurse came out with a clipboard. Loudly and clearly, looking at all the men in the room, she paged [boy name] several times. I was slow in catching on that she meant me.

The receptionist pointed to me. "That's his birth name," she trumpeted, in front of everyone.

I sat across from the intake nurse as she sat down to a keyboard. "Risa Stephanie Bear is my only name, my legal name for the last year, and the only one to which I can properly answer," I said by way of opening pleasantries.

She didn't really seem that interested.

She printed out a label. "Is all this correct?"

I looked it over. "No, but that's not your fault." I pointed to the "M" after my name. "This is changing forever in one week."

Our eyes met. Sure it is, said hers. And pigs can fly.

Just so you know that great hospitals can harbor small minds.

Upstairs, I was given an IV with thallium isotopes in it and popped into a massive machine with a moving bed and huge metal donuts that clucked to themselves as they looked at my heart from a variety of angles for the next half hour.

I was then led to a small room containing an EKG setup and a large treadmill. The treadmill was explained in detail — it's a large one, they expect you to have some problems with it (hence stress test?), and stand on both sides of you so that if you fall they can catch you. I could see my lines on the monitor, and to me they looked much cleaner than in 1993, when everyone seemed to think I could die at any moment.

I've done it, I thought. Turned back the clock and got a little bit more grip on life than I've had for decades.

Yay me.

The machine began at a slow walk, and then, every fifteen seconds, picked up the pace.

"Lengthen your stride a little bit."

"Closer to the front."

"Be careful not to grip the bars. If you don't feel right, let us know."

I'm good so far. I think of my 10,000-foot mountain, the hikes around campus, the ten story building. I breathe carefully and steadily, trying to stay ahead of oxygen debt.

Faster.

They have to get me above 140. I'm at 125. They set the machine to a run.

An even faster run. There it is, 140, 145. They add more thallium, and slow the machine to a gentle stroll.

How did it go? I join them at the monitor.

"We don't know everything yet, but you look really, really good to us. Why did they send you here, anyway?"

Just in case.

In case what? You're healthy as a horse, their eyes tell me.

The younger one stays with me, unplugging things from my chest. I explain my case to her. She's never really heard of transpeople before, but she gets it. I'm not a lifestyle choice. I'm just me.

I learn that she's a neighbor, rides horses on the mountain trails near my place. I realize I've seen her before, riding with her family. Her kids went to school with my kids.

Such a small town we have here.

Another half hour in the embrace of the steel donut, listening to the MRI machine muttering to itself.

And I'm free to go.

Now that that's done, I'm supposed to make an appointment with my doctor. I cannot have the surgery, now eight days away, without a letter from her to Dr. Reed on the test results.

On my two-block walk back to work, I make a cell call.

The receptionist at the little hospital in the country (who has no trouble saying "Ma'am" even with my records right in front of her, God bless her) listens to my explanation of what's needed.

"Wow," she says. "Your doctor is out all this week."


Wednesday. I've had to make an appointment with a doctor whom I have never met, to get the surgery release letter. With three days left in which to get it to all come together. And then emails and phone calls began coming in to my in-boxes asking me to testify — again — at city hall.

And there's getting the job to the point where it can let me go for three weeks (maybe — ouch — more) — and packing — and, and ....

I spent the morning working — frantically — then drove over to my daughter's place and we had a quiet little birthday party for her — she's going to turn twenty while we're away. Then I drove out to the little country hospital and had yet another blood draw, then waited for the doctor.

His intake nurse is one of the good ones. She had read all of my doctor's notes without ever raising an eyebrow and was welcoming, gracious, and solicitous. While waiting for her to get the blood pressure cuff, I had an unexpected panic attack, and was weeping before she could get her numbers.

"This one isn't going to look very nice," I blubbered.

"You're right — yep — 140/81." She sat down and chatted me up a bit, handing me the tissues. Without exactly ordering me to breathe deep, she found a gentle way on to the topic of breathing exercises, and when I looked a little more centered, she hopped up and rechecked me before I could start whining again.

"See? 120/70. That's the real you, and you are going to be fine."

She looked up. "So — nervous? Excited?"

"No, tired of waiting and afraid something will prevent it."

"I know just what you mean. You're going to like the doctor, he's a good man. We'll do everything we can."

The doctor, a stooped, mustachioed gentleman who might look elderly but for an ageless twinkle in his eye, came in after a while and took quiet — gentlemanly — command of my life.

"Hello, my dear; you're looking lovely today. My colleague has told me all about you. Say 'Ahh' — thank you, tonsils out, I see."

"Nineteen Fifty Four."

"A very good year. Gall bladder out, too?" He was looking at an arthroscopic surgery scar on my belly.

I told him my complete list — the strep surgery, the pancreatitis, the kidney stones, the family coronary history. He listened to my chest, thumped my intestines, and felt my wrists and ankles. "You exercise a great deal, don't you?"

"Stair climbing, hiking mostly. Kayaking in season."

He glanced at the wicked rains outside. "Yes, it's not been very seasonable for that, I would imagine."

He sat down and gave me a piercing gaze.

"You are headed into a very serious surgery. I've no doubt that your body is as up to this as it can be."

He paused for maximum attention. "Do you feel ready? This is what you want to do?"

My eyes filled with tears again.

"There's nowhere else I can go that I'll be me."

"Fair enough." He turned to the clipboard on the counter. "Do we have your surgeon's address? Ah, a card. Yes, we can fax. Ask the nurse for her extension and you can harass us all you like until you're sure we have sent all he needs from us."

I thanked him, and walked away, feeling like — what?

Someone whose dignity is not only intact but confirmed.

I felt empowered. I felt strong, I felt beautiful — there aren't any really good words, only clichés. I felt that, should my heart burst in that moment, it would shower everyone within five miles with the most gorgeous blossoms the world would ever see.

The nurse stopped me on the way out and handed me a voluminous sheaf of papers.

"Here's all the lab results we have up to this point. In case they're a help."

It was now already dark out. I drove back to Eugene and parked near a pizza place, where I expected to meet my daughter. She had agreed to keep me company at the dreaded Human Rights Commission meeting.

Her boyfriend, a gentle young man with impeccable manners, was there also, as was her best friend, a slim blonde who had played, against much opposition, for their high school football team and who was now a student at the University. They would come as well.

We fortified ourselves with cheese, olives, garlic, spinach, and crust.

I went to the ladies' room, and on my way back, caught the eye of the waitress, who knows me. Drying a glass with a towel, she leaned across the counter a bit, to be heard over the four large television monitors blaring basketball commentary. "When are you leaving?"

"Friday."

"Wow. When's the operation?"

"Tuesday! If all goes as planned."

"Nervous? Yah? Excited?"

"No, afraid, of getting a flat on the way to the airport."

"I'm predicting that won't happen. And I'll light a candle for you on Tuesday."

"Thank you, dear."

As I rejoined the young people, Daughter's young man turned to me.


"So — nervous? Excited?"


The meeting room, at City Hall, seemed to have about fifty people in it. I looked around. The dear harried faces of the long-suffering, heroic rights commissioners, the dour faces of the mean-spirited Pharisees, the fresh and cheery faces of the young and idealistic trans-kids.

In all this years-long effort there seemed be consistently from five to eight transsexuals and genderqueers, the only actual transfolk willing, in a chilly if not terrifying social atmosphere, to testify. From a population of nearly two hundred.

The fear in the trans community here is huge. And it's justified. We still have nowhere to turn if we are fired or evicted. And we do get fired and we do get evicted. And coming to the microphone to speak puts us right in the cross hairs of those who would do us harm.

The man whose turn it was to speak before me spouted dreadful nonsense about the nonexistence of transpeople and the "charade of special rights". He even sneered, and damned if a shock of his black hair didn't fall across his forehead in the very place that Hitler's had done.

When it was my turn to speak, I walked to the microphone in front of the television cameras, more angry than frightened, yet weak-kneed, noting in the far corner the evangelical scribbler who never testified or identified herself, but simply misquoted and misrepresented transpeople in the pages of hate-promoting "family centered" media.

"Hi," I said. "I'm Risa Stephanie Bear."

And I looked across the room at my loving and supportive family.


Thursday. Snow. We haven't had much snow in the last decade, but here it was, a harbinger of things to come. I brought the push broom from the barn and shoved away three inches of snow from the surfaces of the car. Driving to work was iffy, but not impossible.

I worked hard, until late afternoon, making sure that all my employees' time cards were turned in. Many well-wishers came by, bringing cards, hugs, quiet farewells, and gifts. I left at 3:30 in the afternoon.

My journey had begun.

Even worse snow and ice were now predicted for the one day this year that I needed it not to happen. I called Beloved at work and she agreed we might need to stay at the airport overnight, rather than risk not being able to get there in the morning.

Most of my things had been packed for three weeks, and I knew what I wanted to wear and had all of it hanging from one hanger. I watered the greenhouse, wrote and mailed five name-change letters, ate dinner (a homemade veggie burrito), washed the dishes, and cleaned the bathrooms. Beloved, who'd had an even longer and harder week, came running in.

"It's snowing!" She frantically packed.

As bags became available I carried them to the garage and stowed them in the trunk of her car. I could see my little microwagon, on the driveway, already covered with two inches. The ground felt slick underfoot. It was now 10:30.

Through flurries, we drove for eighteen careful minutes, especially over bridges. Other drivers were being cautious as well.

The small-town airport was practically deserted so late at night. We found a row of seats without arm rests, which formed an acceptable couch, and lay drowsing on it by turns, watch and watch.

A lady from Texas made our acquaintance, and commiserated that we should be going so far only to have surgery. "Florida should be fun!"

"Oh, it will be. But I'll just have to be flat on my back for part of it."

"Well, I certainly will be thinking of you."

The plane had to be de-iced, a rare procedure for our airport, and we left an hour behind schedule. Views of the Rockies and such, as the flight progressed, were stunning beautiful, as views from aircraft windows tend to be, but I fretted over the lateness of the flight.


Welcome to sunny, cold, brown, and snowless Denver, Colorado! Sure enough, although we ran the half mile from one gate to the other, it was hopeless – our flight for Charlotte had left without us. We were told where to find Customer Service.

The harried women behind the desk dealt with one tragic disaster every three minutes, and ours was but one of many. Weather was making trouble across much of the country. "Where to?"

"Fort Lauderdale."

She typed for a long time. "There are no open seats for Lauderdale from anywhere today."

Beloved and I conferred.

"Can you get us to Miami-Dade?"

Clackety-tick. "No... I'm so sorry, it's a tough time of year."

"Opa-locka?"

"Taken."

"Orlando!"

"No way."

I thought a bit about driving time. "Daytona!"

"Wow, you really know your Florida. Full, though."

"Tampa/St. Pete?"

No good. Tallahassee? Gainesville? Jax?

Tickety-tink. "I have an Atlanta."

"I was born there. I know how far it is from Atlanta to Miami, and right now we wouldn't have the strength to do it."

"Yeah, it's a pretty long way." Her shoulders slumped in defeat.

"Okay, what's the very first Lauderdale?"

Clickety-tap. "Umm ... oh hey, I can get you two places to Boston and on to Lauderdale from another airline. It's a long way between the terminals and you'll have to be searched again."

"When is that flight?"

"11:55 PM."

Fifteen hours away. I wrote her a thank you note card on the spot; she seemed really touched.


Friday. Now began the strangest fifteen hours of our lives. Neither of us is young, and the Denver terminal is not kept warm enough for its kidnapped overnighters. We ate as best we could, and drank water and juices, and bought tiny little airline blankets.

I put on the little socks with the Jalapeno peppers on them and hiked up and down to keep warm, while Beloved lay under the blankets on the floor by a sunny window.

Then I lay down and she hiked. When we could no longer keep warm by other means, we bought hot chocolate and burned the tips of our tongues in it.

By the time we needed to move to our new terminal, we both looked as though we had aged five years. In the restroom mirror, I could see fine lines all over my face, an exact portrait of my mother. My feet had swollen to the point where I could not get back into my shoes.

I had never seen, at the ends of my legs, two such feet. And I felt laryngitis coming on. When I talked with Beloved, I sounded like an ancient raven.

We were going to need some help. Found a wheelchair and commandeered it.

Someone came by.

"Where are you going with that?"

"Concourse C."

"You can't. They have to stay here in B. You're supposed to reserve one in advance."

"Well, dear, I'm left with two choices. You can help me reserve this one or I can crawl to C on all fours."

She thought about that for a moment.

I added, "and where, my dear, did you get that wonderful pendant?"

She wheeled me over to C herself.


Saturday. Welcome to sunny, boat-spangled Boston, devoid of snow.

This time we had reserved a chair. The chair's front wheels, large casters really, were a bit technical for the sweet young Jamaican woman who waited with it, and members of the flight crew knelt by turns, as if bowing to me in ceremony, to untangle the wheels and help lift me across the minor obstacles posed by the joints in the airport gangway.

We now began a zig-zag-zig journey from one end of Logan to the other, traversing long corridors, some filled with running passengers, others virtually empty. We came to a junction with a few mostly empty shops, where our attendant made inquiry as to the location of the mysterious B13, and was directed across the wild traffic of arriving automobiles, to another building entirely.

If you know Boston drivers you know that our lives were now in her hands.

She flagged down a policeman who set about waving cars to a stop, the first few of whom ignored him at about twenty miles over the posted limit. He fairly leaped into the stream then, forcing vehicles to halt rather than run over him, and delivered them some stern language as we scuttled past. I don't that he heard my thanks, but he has my undying, if anonymous, gratitude.

It was necessary, here, to go through Homeland Security again.

Beloved had to take off her shoes and deal with my laptop and a dozen other stressful details, with a long line behind her and nervous and harried officials in front of her, barking contradictory orders.

I, meanwhile, was wheeled into a space called "Female Assistance," where I was carefully, gently, but thoroughly frisked by a woman in Federal uniform. I was calm enough throughout all this, but the thought did cross my mind that if this frisk was going to go another four inches in that direction, things were going to get really interesting really fast. But the guard seemed satisfied and waved me on with an apologetic smile.


Boston to Fort Lauderdale is a surprisingly long flight compared to Denver to Boston. We of the glaciers and icy Cascades sometimes forget how far away the subtropical realms really are. Beloved slept the entire flight, and I slept much of it, not having, as I generally do, access to the windows for reading the gleaming dreamscape below – which in this case consisted of the Atlantic Ocean, farther east over it than I had ever been.

Upon landing, two very exhausted and crabby Bears worked out their frustrations in a quick, not very energetic tiff, made up, dealt with their missing luggage and the car rental, and made their way into the rental garage. We dumped our carry-ons into the trunk.

Beloved was the designated driver, but she looked like she might collapse at any moment.

"And," she pointed out, "I can't find my sunglasses."

I took the keys and opened the driver's door. "Hop in. It's not a bad drive, and I'm feeling very up to it all of a sudden."

She immediately fell asleep in the passenger seat and missed the entire ride. I drove through Hollywood, past Haulover Beach and into Bal Harbour. Passing the Bal Harbour Shops on my right, I watched, for, and found, the causeway turnoff, 96th Street, a.k.a. Road 922. Beloved awoke and began blearily reading road signs.

"Toll Road? All the money is in the back."

"S'okay, we're not going all the way to the causeway." I crossed a bridge. Underneath, pleasure boats and pelicans made passage.

"See, here it is. Right on the water. Like coming home."


Sunday. We went shopping and then, briefly enough, looked for a beach. The supermarket is several blocks away, south on Harding Avenue (Route A1A) from the Bal Harbour Shops. We didn't spot it at first because the entire grocery store is on the second floor, above its own parking lot. Selections and prices were good, but the store was filled with people from all over the world, speaking a variety of languages, and many of the patrons were boorish beyond belief. If you stopped to check a price, they tried to run over you; if they stopped to check a price, nothing you could do would induce them to shift their cart so that you could eventually get by.

Outside, I met an old woman walking her dog, which was one of those little sausage-y things.

"I've been here thirty-four yee-ahs."


"I like your shift – it looks like a design by Australian aborigines. And that hat looks so practical – cute, too, but practical."

"It is very practical. One mustn't burn, you know. Yes. I got the dress for twenty dollar. I think. I think it was twenty dollar."

"No! But it's very nice."

"Twenty!" She snapped her fingers triumphantly. "And my shoes — ten, new! You can live here very reasonable but you must try."

We drove a few blocks north, to Haulover Beach, which I had spotted on the drive from Lauderdale. Parking is five dollars. Here, it's a bargain. There are numerous picnic tables and barbecue grills in the shade of the palms. Parking, so scarce near the hotels, is plentiful. The beach is right across the sea wall, steep and narrow, with small combers curling in near the north jetty of the river entrance. Charter cruisers, motor speedboats, and ski-doos roared in and out of the harbor, leaping from wave to wave.

Lifeguards whistled and yelled at the swimmers who came too near the jetty or the rip tides. Families haggled, in several languages, over the first or the last hot dog. Fighting kites whipped around in circles and chased each other down into the sand.

Beloved and I walked barefoot along the ocean, where the sand was soft even at water's edge, as the tide was at its height. Brown children ran by us continually, close enough to grab and hug, were such a thing permissible. Others bobbed around in the green waves, laughing and teasing one another. These were mostly locals, and the hominess of the scene was an absolute joy.

Beloved stopped and bent over.

"Hey! These are not bad shells here."

"That's amazing; you'd think they would all be vacuumed up, with so many people."

But no one else was shelling. I have read somewhere that only tourists shell. I don't know; if we lived here I'm sure we would both pick them up.

She bent over again. "Look! Coral!" Busy hands.

On the way back to the car, we stopped by a grove full of sizzling braziers and the sounds of families murmuring to one another in warm Spanish. A man leaned on his bicycle just inside the shade line, watching the beach and the harbor. He was short, very muscular, and red as a lobster. "Hi, ladies. Liking it?"

"Oh, yes, very much!"

"I love it. I live about two miles up the beach. I come here all the time. All the time. Just to watch people being happy, y'know?" He pronounced it yust.

We could feel the intensity of the subtropical sun, and moved into the shade with him.

"Yeah, that's right, girls, that can cook you out there. I'm in the shade because I was out on the water all morning. I'm already toast."

"Riding around or fishing?"

"Fishing!"

"How'd you do?"

"Two good ones, about four dinner's worth."

"Great."

He peered at me over the top of his sunglasses. "You're not from here."

"Oregon."

"Wow, Oregon. Great."

"You'd like it – rainbow trout. Not as sunny, though."

He smiled. We watched the crowd together, totally in the present, while Beloved sat on a rock and pawed through her treasures.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sixteen


WALKING in any direction from the Library I seem to be going upwind. I had taken to walking hunched over, or with my index finger holding down my bangs, or both.

"What are you doing?" asked a friend. ""You look like you're hunting for pennies on the sidewalk. Or in pain."

"Hair. It outs me."

"Nnh?"

"See?" I held up my bangs for her to see the globular, shining forehead, going, way, way, back.

She sees.

"Indoors, no problem. But out here, every time there's the smallest breeze, people who have just walked by me look a bit shocked."

I patted the bangs back into place, and, making my nails into a comb, raked at my forehead in a vain attempt to look like — well, me.

Something was going to have to be done.

Later, picking up the phone book on my desk, I learned that there was a "wig boutique" about two miles away. I wrote up a longish lunch hour on the office whiteboard and drove over.

I could see from the street that this was not going to be an obviously accepting kind of place. Walls — almost creepy. Furniture: old. carpet: faded. Station chairs: holes worn through the forearms. Proprietresses: in their seventies.

Putting my courage to the sticking point, I marched in using my best body language.

"May I help you, my dear?"

"Yes ... my, my hair has been going away in front and I have — I have a pony tail of my own hair, but the top's, too-oo, thin to hide the clippies well..."

"Mmm, hmm, that happens a lot. I think you are ready for a wig, my dear. I'm wearing one right now. A survivor, you know."

She settled me in the worn beauty-shop chair before a huge mirror. All around were shelves, floor-to-ceiling — there must be a ladder somewhere — each laden with a row, carefully spaced, of expressionless styrofoam heads, each wearing its own distinctive counterfeit of a woman's glory. "Did you have a price range in mind?"

"Well, I don't have a six thousand dollar head ..."

"Right. We run one to two hundred. Now, size is a factor; these 'smalls' cost less than the 'mediums', and I don't think you need a 'long' ... "

"Umm, right."

"Now, I'm tucking your hair up both ways from the back, into this hair net, see? Above the ears, right along the forehead, and don't let it roll up or it will cut your circulation. I don't recommend human hair in this climate. The rain droops and frizzes it unmercifully. "

" ... does, doesn't it?" I rejoined, weakly.

"Right. Now here is a 'medium', much like your own hair, but teased nicely in front."

And it did look nice. But ...

"Too much red? I think so too. Not that they can't be recolored or trimmed as needed, though they don't ever look the same again, and of course they can't grow."

She reached to a higher shelf.

We peered into the mirror again.

Too light; too youngish, really; I would need bare feet and a posy. She pursed her lips. "You are aware you have an Audrey Hepburn neck? It's your best feature." Now that was pushing things a bit — but I knew from that moment I was about to buy. A master saleswoman. "So I want you to try a bit shorter — you see?"

Oh, god. What had taken me so long? Yes, I did see. "I'll take it."

As I left, I checked, as is my habit, my walking style in the storefront window. Upright already, a woman to reckon with, going into the wind. This was going to work.

Back at the Library, I gathered books from the Returns shelf and, on the way back to my department, visited the office of a friend who had emailed me to stop by for something or other.

"Risa! Omigod — look — stand right over here." She pulled from her desk drawer a tiny digital camera, and almost before I knew what was happening, set off the flash.

Of such small things are our daily happinesses made.


My mom went out shopping a few days ago and so my call caught my dad off guard.

"Are you taking care of yourself?" I asked.

He hung up.

I rang again.

Pick up, pick up, pick up, c'mon, old man, you can do it.

He picked up.

"How are you?"

"Who is this?"

I could tell he was in bed. "Your only child. There's no need to hang up," I added quickly. "Just checking, are you okay, all that." My most male remaining voice. Not an easy thing to do. In fact, it’s really hard to do.

"Well" — long, deep raggedy breath — "I'm poorly."

"Blood pressure, huh?"

"Yeahhh." A long sigh.

"Where's the old lady?"

"Oh, she's out shopping, I guess ... up to no good ..."

"Uh, huh."

Don't let the silence run on, he'll start thinking too much. "Didya get that envelope I sent, the railroad stuff?"

"Yeahhhh, did. Yeahhh."

"What'd you think, all that new stuff in the yards and by the depot?"

"It's all diff'rent; that restaurant in there, they closed it. All dead now, them folks that run it. I wouldn't really know the place."

"I'll send you one about Coast Guard Lightships, see if the one you were on is in it, O.K.?"

"No need; save yuh money..."

"Well, the way you talked about the lightships, I just hadda look 'em up; I thought it was very interesting."

"That was cold work." Wheeze.

"You liked it."

"Yeahhh. Yeahhh, I liked it."

"'K, well, you be good to you, hear?"

"Yeahhh."

"Bye now."

The phone in the house on the St. John's River, Florida, clicked off.

I hung up. Beloved was in the hall, sorting old children's books.

"Was that your dad?"

I nodded and burst into tears.

She dropped everything and came running.

Body language is seventy percent of speech, I've read somewhere.

The grumps first.

One knows instantly whether anyone disputes your humanity. It can be little things. There is a tendency for these persons to wear a mask of expressionlessness when you approach them with a question or whatever. They give the shortest answer, and then turn away. You observe them with others. They're not doing it to them. Yet if you challenge them on it — "Don't you like me anymore? etc." they will typically deny there is a problem, and wear an aggrieved expression, as if to say: "not only are you weird, you're also paranoid."

Or, their eyes may sweep over a group of people that you're standing with — mutual friends, shall we say. The eyes may move faster when they cross the space you're in. You are not there.

Or, they may talk only to the person next to you, not both of you. You may be interrupted or ignored when you chime in.

Or, they look with mild distaste at a coffee carafe when they realize you have just used it. For now, they may decide to switch to tea.

Or, they may make an effort to get into the other line at potlucks, using the utensils before you do. They do not turn around to chat.

Or, they may hover with their plate and cup, waiting to choose a table at which you are not sitting.

Or, they may turn and leave the bathroom quickly when they discover you are in there.

Or, when they call your office they may not choose your number, even though the matter at hand is in your area of responsibility.

Or, they may perhaps wait until your shift is up and then come to the service desk.

Or, they may walk the short way through the area when you are not seen to be there, but the long way around if you are seen to be there.

Or, when it's your turn to present to a meeting they may stare out the window or doodle on their notepad. As soon as some other person begins speaking they straighten up and begin to pay attention again.

Or, in round-table discussion, if they are the moderator and you raise you hand, you are not called on. If you hand out papers they fail to take one or even fail to hand them on. If someone else hands out papers they pick them up.

Or, in a group that is going out somewhere, they may pair off with someone else. They will answer if anyone else in the group replies to something they have said to "everyone," but when you reply they simply switch to another topic, or start talking to the person next to them, even if you're not done yet.

Or, they may nudge one another when you are approaching, and give one another "significant" glances. Their conversation drops in volume and their heads move closer together. This posture says, "Don't join this conversation."

Or, jokes may be made about you but only in your absence; these are told only to trusted comrades as this is expressly forbidden by (in my case) company policy.

In many places, thank God, not here, it is unspoken (but understood) company policy that such behavior towards you is to be encouraged.

This has contributed to my people having, on average, far less income than our peers, leading, in worst case, to chronic joblessness and uninsurability, depression, hunger, self-destructive social behaviors, exposure to increased risk of abusive language, beatings, rape, and murder; to falling into prostitution, porn modeling, alcohol, drugs, STDs, self-injury, assorted preventable medical and debilitating mental conditions, and suicide.

And who would want to rent to or hire people that such things happen to?

Dying beneath a bridge or in an alley, a nameless lump, is all too often the dénouement, and for what?

Off-campus, before I became fairly passable, people turned about one-eighth so that their eyes could follow me. From peripheral vision I could see that they weren't just staring. I know it as the stare that among my Appalachian kinfolk used to be called the evil eye. If I looked back they would quickly straighten up and look away again, pretending not to have done anything of the sort. This is not good for them; it hardens their hearts.

In such an atmosphere the Nazi Party found their scapegoats, with spectacular results.

Sadly, I would observe that in instances of these kinds of treatment where I knew the identity of the other parties, I also knew them to be, reputedly, religious...

I suspect they may have been lied to about what I am, whatever it is I supposedly represent.

When I have looked into this I have learned that Matthew 7:1-5 is not to be applied in my case.

I have no idea why not.

Most women walk with me to the restroom and talk with me while I'm washing my hands or checking my eye shadow. They walk towards me when they recognize me, and stand with one hand holding the elbow of the other arm, which says: "I have time for you."

They lean their heads toward mine, in a posture that invites me to do the same: this says, "private conversation commencing." They ask more precise questions at this time than the men: Does Beloved take you shopping, are you still sleeping in the same bed, is she happy, do you find yourself doing more of the housework; I notice you haven't worn pants in years, whereas I always do ... they're expecting direct replies, information; we walk together, we do not lose track of these topics while interrupting ourselves to admire trees in sunlight, wind-rustled daffodils, absent-minded squirrels and chuckling jays.
Short hugs, long hugs, a squeeze of the arm, a shoulder or hand touched. Shall we have coffee? Let's go stair-climbing. That's great, what you did with your hair. Are you happy? Are you taking care of yourself? Here's something I thought you might like to have. You must make sure you get enough sleep.

The shoulders completely relaxed, the corners of the mouth turned slightly upward without a hint of irony.

They lean on the service desk countertop, arms folded, watching passersby in silence with you, eyes shining.


There are a lot of questions coming now; over coffee, over lunch, on walks, in email, at chance meetings: Are you excited? Are you afraid?
No. Mostly when I think about it, which I don’t have to, very much — tickets bought — all packed — my feeling is one of okay, I’m on track.

I take a great interest in my health these days, because I need to pass a thallium stress test next Monday. Doctors used to freak when they saw my EKG, and warn me off eggs and sports. I don’t want any of that between here and the operation, so I have been hiking, stairclimbing, and even running – something I have not done in over a decade – for the last two months. I’m down about fourteen pounds from my Thanksgiving fiasco, but not enough. I wanted to weigh 170 in Miami, but that proved unrealistic. It will be about 180. Even so, the internal machinery is running better. It can do twenty flights of steps without a rest, and then sprint for two more. I’m as ready for the test as I will ever be.

The other concern is the ease with which people in this valley share illnesses – especially university students. They hand you a bit of scratch paper with a call number on it, and boom! You come down with any one of sixty-five rhinoviruses, all known locally as "the crud" and all presenting a range of flu-like and bronchial symptoms. One such nameless disease went through here a few years ago, with all of the symptoms of whooping cough. It actually killed people. My case of it lasted sixty wet-lunged, hacking days.

So I simply cannot get sick right now. So I fail to take things from people, the scrap of paper or the ID card, or whatever, and, through what I hope is friendly but firm body language, get them to drop it on the counter.

Ordinarily, I walk patrons to a public terminal to train them on lookups, but currently I simply demo it from the service desk, turning the monitor for them to see. This one keyboard and mouse I know I can keep clean.

If I were to catch anything, of course, the surgeon would kindly reschedule. But I would have difficulty getting money back from the airline. And there would go my summer, which I’m trying to protect from all this. I have not properly vacationed in decades.

Meanwhile, a co-worker, looking over my shoulder, saw on my calendar the notations off estrogen and, two weeks farther on, off "spiro."

"How’s that going? Not having the meds, I mean?"

Not so good.

Of course, I was warned about that. One friend said that, for her, that was absolutely the worst part of the operation. And she described psychological horrors such as no woman would want to go through.

It's not all bad, but it’s not exactly salad days, either. Tell you what I can.

My world has gone grey. Its palette of a thousand colors seems to have shrunk down to ten. The same, though of course there doesn’t seem to be much in English that can describe it, is happening to my skin. I cannot feel beauty – as when one touches silk – with my accustomed sensitivity.

I feel, though the people around me deny it, that I’m becoming ugly. It’s that face from three years ago, the one on which I had so resolutely turned my back, only older. I now know that it takes me six months on six milligrams/day of estrogen, with 200 of spironolactone, to build the face I want, and one week, off estrogen, to lose it. This happened when I was very ill, last August, and here it is again. And, yes, it does feel a bit like dying.

More surprising, because I have not heard of this from others on this journey, is the discovery that I am having problems controlling my voice, postures, gestures, and manner of walking. One would think these were, in a sense, superfluities, based in acting skills alone acquired for safety reasons – a necessary part of passing, not something connected directly to hormones.

Apparently, one would be wrong.

So I have all this to live with, but it does not seem so burdensome, nor so depressing, as I have been told. There is an end in view, and it is only fourteen days away. I would have put up with much, much more.

I'm not, as I was told I would be, depressed or terrified. I am only a little sad. I can do this, as any woman does mourning: one day at a time.

One takes refuge in small things: rise, build the fire, make a small breakfast, read for a bit, wash up, make up, dress up, drive.

Work.

Make small talk.

Get in the exercise whenever the opportunity presents itself, in company with friends, or alone.

Make and keep appointments.

Keep drinking fluids.

Drive home, stopping, perhaps, for gas, with an extra dollar for the attendant who is taking on all that wind and rain for you, at minimum wage.

Take 1000 mg. Vitamin C, morning and evening. Arnica montana, four, sublingually, four times a day.

No vitamin E. It promotes bruising. No aspirin.

Read.

Listen to good music.

Fuss over which socks to bring (I like the ones with the bright chili peppers – they’re more Beloved's kind of thing, but I do find them cheery and warm when convalescing).

Read.

Watch the birds at the bird feeder.

Take a friend for a long walk.

Read.

At present I’m reading The Happy Isles by Paul Theroux. I have run out of South Seas books by women and have grudgingly returned to the noisier menfolks.

For Christmas Beloved asked for, and to her surprise got, a small combo-drive television for the bedroom. She’s taken to it, in spite of the fuss she made, and is watching whole seasons of Northern Exposure.

I find that, when the shows are on in the late evening, and I hear her healthy laughter ringing through the house, I’m glad for her but don’t wish to watch, and cannot easily fall asleep under the flickering imagery and buzzing dialogue – even with my good ear buried in the pillow and another pillow draped over my head. So I go to my own room, and run a small space heater there, and read travel books until I’m sleepy. Turning off the heater and the lamp, I’m plunged into near-total darkness, the starlight from outside having been absorbed by the thick Oregon cloud cover and the immense rains. I feel my way through the house, imagining I’m Helen Keller, and slip beneath the blankets on my side of the bed.

Beloved, still only half asleep, stirs somewhere deep in the mountain of quilts and comforters on her side of the bed. Her hand seeks me through the cold and the blackness.

She finds my lips with her index finger.

I bless it with a little kiss.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Fifteen


I remember thinking, once upon a time, that sex was just about all there was.

I held that view from the age of fourteen to about the age of forty-eight.

I was also extremely heterosexual during all that time. I wasn't just blocked about gay issues, I found the thought of two guys together repugnant; I could feel the repugnance, as though it were an axiom of nature.

Well, it was. It was an axiom of my nature at the time, which was a combination of two factors, over and above any social training: genetics and hormonal levels. If you have XY chromosomes and plenty of testosterone and you are, from before birth, predisposed to respond to female pheromones, you get to be, normally, heterosexual in your orientation. Your body chemistry will tell you: sex with men: bad.

Other factors being equal, of course, such as that you don't have androgen insensitivity syndrome.

Now, suppose you have XY chromosomes, plenty of testosterone, and are from before birth predisposed to respond to male pheromones. Your body chemistry will tell you: sex with men: good. And you may find the thought of a man kissing a woman repugnant accordingly.

Ditto for women: If you have XX chromosomes and plenty of estrogen and you are, from before birth, predisposed to respond to male pheromones, you get to be normally heterosexual in your orientation, whereas if you have XX chromosomes, plenty of estrogen, and are from before birth predisposed to respond to female pheromones you get to be normally lesbian in your orientation. And you may find the thought of a woman kissing a man repugnant accordingly.

All of this is normal (whatever that is) biologically. Scientists are beginning to realize that heterosexual and homosexual orientations and behaviors occur in pretty much all mammals and quite a few birds and reptiles as well.

I fully expected, because I was highly attracted to my partner before I began transition, to have a "lesbian" orientation.

Didn't happen. I stayed "straight" and so did a flip-flop, suddenly noticing guys.

We're still happy together, but it's different. As she said to me, if all this had happened to us when we were thirty, she would probably have had to leave me.

And that's fair. She wanted to have kids.

All this tells me that those who theorize that I'm a suppressed gay, spending a fortune to avoid admitting it, or that I'm a fetishist, spending a fortune to have a female body handy to play with, are influenced by their own sexual issues and drives.

See, nearly all of them are male — and nearly all of them mean Male To Female rather than Female To Male when disparaging transsexuals — they can only "see" a world in which only hetero is normal. That's what their bodies tell them. So they theorize to fit the world picture their bodies show them.

They should be made to take a month's worth of estradiol before being allowed to pontificate on the matter.

Testosterone and estrogen are psychotropic.

Think about that.

So, in the real world, you have some born straight men and women and some born gays and lesbians and also some people who are in between or none of the above. All of whom are, given whatever combination of factors they were born with, normal.

And then you get another layer: intersexuals and transsexuals. Not normal? If this were all about sex, I might agree.

But once you can, as many well-educated people do, distinguish sex from gender, a lot of nonsense simply falls by the wayside.

Here's the thing: I was wandering through the stacks in my university's library, one day, back in the nineties, and pulled out a book, having seen the word hermaphrodites on the spine, and it turned out to be a study of a number of women from a village somewhere in the Caribbean. Many women in the village were sterile, apparently, which may be what originally called medical attention to them.

There was a problem with what is now called the sex-determining factor, in utero.

There turned out to be a recessive gene that had cropped up due to inbreeding, resulting in XY individuals with very convincing feminine bodies, though their vaginas lacked depth.

Typically, these women married and adopted children.

I looked at the grainy photographs, with the little black patches covering the eyes. I read the captions. I found the anecdotes. My heart raced. My breath came in ragged gasps. Anyone watching might easily have concluded I was a fetishist or typical male looking at soft porn.

But the experience I was having was this: I was thunderstruck to discover that in the world there were women who were accepted by their communities.

Women with XY chromosomes.

Not men. Women.
With XY chromosomes.

Suddenly there was hope for me.

Because I might not be a "pervert" after all.

Just a person.

All it would take would be for those around me to believe it.


Things are moving a little faster now.

I had an appointment with my counselor, and ran through rain to get there, and we talked for an hour and he gave me my copy of my letter, and I cried on it, and then ran through the rain with it to the car, so it's awfully splotchy.

But mine.

Yesterday I emailed Dr. Reed and he replied right away (he's extraordinarily accessible) and advised me to talk with Anne, the woman-of-all-trades, about a date.

That would be, like, first thing in the morning.

So I drove (through rain you could cut with a cold knife) to my electro appointment, and lay still though two hours of torture, and got back on the freeway, heading home, through yet more torrential rains ...

... and failed to negotiate the curve on the exit.

I sailed out into the median between two exit ramps at fifty miles per hour, and hit the mud going just a bit sideways, driver side. I could feel the station wagon getting ready to flip. So I slowly cut the wheels to the left. The vehicle responded well (for a wagon) but then slewed to the right. So I slowly cut the wheels to the right. Just like hitting an ice patch.

There was sufficient momentum that I somehow got across the miniature wetlands in the middle without bogging down ...

... and found myself, undamaged, in an undamaged vehicle, on the other off ramp, going in the right direction ...

... and, this being the country, not only did I not hit anyone, I had no witnesses to the miracle, other than a couple of rather bemused deer.

And I thought: oh, please, not now. Not when I'm so close ...

... and drove slowly the rest of the way through the black night ... and got home and went to bed and slept ten hours.


This morning I got up with enough time to spare for the phone call. There was a breakfast fire and coffee waiting; Beloved had already gone to work and still didn't know about my practically out-of-body experience yesterday.

I dressed to the nines, checked the mirror, and, to calm my nerves, transferred all the numbers from cell phone to address book that hadn't got there yet.

Then picked up the phone and called Anne. She picked up after the first ring.

We established that my idea of going to Miami for Spring Break was unrealistic as the doctor isn't in during the last week of every month, and after that would be at a conference. So we investigated the available dates and came up with March 14th.

Wouldn't you know it ... my mother's birthday. That's in, hmm, 73 days.

A lot to do between now and then, my dears.

Beloved and I met, after driving through unbelievable rain, with the credit union to move money around for the surgery.

I sat in the waiting area, reading Good Housekeeping, as other women walked back and forth between tellers, loan officers, restrooms and the coffee machine. The lady at the information booth craned her neck around, looking at the vaulted ceiling far above.

"Have you got a leak?" I asked.

"It doesn't show, but, yes, we've finally sprung one. The water goes down the underside of the roof and down a wall, and it's getting into the carpets."

We sighed together over the long, dark and wet winter, and then she greeted a very wet Beloved.

The loan officer was very sweet to us both, and we each signed document after document till we came to the last one.

I froze.

"This is not my name on this one."

"We have to use this," purred the bank lady, "because it is the name on your deed."

"Even though it's not her legal name?" asked Beloved, shocked.

"Until you change it at the county assessor's office."

"But we never got it back! Your office was supposed to send it to us in October."

"Oh!" Clickity-clickity. "You're right; we'll fix that. Apologies. But if you want this at this time, it has to have that signature, I'm afraid."

Oh, god.

I picked up the pen with a shaky hand and wrote as in a dark dream. I felt the tears coming; and as she continued her soothing monologue I reached for my purse on the floor, fished out my handkerchief, and folded and unfolded and refolded it on my lap, until the dam burst.

Everything around us seemed to come to a standstill for a moment; not that it was loud sobbing or anything untidy like that, but as I sat with the hanky over my face, a shock wave of grief went out into the lobby behind us.

The bank lady started crying too.

She asked Beloved if she could get me a glass of water or anything.

"No, I ... I'm fine," I offered in my most reassuring voice. "It was just unexpected."

After we rose and shook hands and Bank Lady, her composure regained, left the cubicle, Beloved noted that some such things had yet to be dealt with.

"There's the car insurance, for example."

Yes, there is; but on that one I'm holding out ... if I'm in a wreck I don't want one thing to say 'M' and the other 'F'. It was bad enough having that rude letter on my bracelet at the hospital...

We ate small cakes from a food cart in the outer lobby and decompressed. The older people at the next table were cheerful and friendly, and it became a bit like a tea party. I could see that they were family of the cart lady, and, noticing a figurine of a Chihuahua on the counter, I asked if she had Chihuahuas.

"Yes, how did you know? One's a purebred, the other is half Schipperke."

"And they are a riot," put in the other lady.

"Eat you alive," said the old man at the other end.

"Will not! They're sweet, and you know it."

"There aren't that many Schipperkes here," I offered.

"Do you have some time? I'll show you their pictures."

We admired each portrait of her little darlings, and made the appropriate noises. The whole time, we were conscious of the other mementos at the food cart. Intense Evangelicalism. Perhaps, if she knew my background, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

But we were, and I enjoyed its cheerful companionableness.

I began to breathe again.

It's beginning to reach me that something is going to happen soon.

I have gotten serious about food, and my weight is down from a holidays-induced high of around 190 to about 183. Aiming for 175 or better.

I’m walking, as able, in the wettest winter here since 1996, and also stair-climbing on the Library's great central spiral staircase, three times a day. I did 8,300 steps the other day, just working or on breaks here in the building.

And I’m eating with care: cottage cheese breakfast, water bottle with dissolved multivitamins all day, supper of one veggie burrito, with fresh veggies diced and lightly steamed before wrapping.

Peppermint tea at bedtime. In bed by nine every night.

Dr. Reed will require a thallium stress test before I go, and it had better be good or we go to a nearby hospital at best or call it off at worst. The one I cannot afford and the other would be devastating to say the least. Not to be thought of. I'm worried because I used to flunk step tests even though I was a good forest fire fighter, and eventually was washed out and couldn't go fight fire any more.

I'm supposed to leave my index fingers unpainted for oximetry. Sure, it's six weeks away, but I have done this anyway — polished eight nails. Every time I look down I see the index fingernails and it reminds me how much is at stake here. Helps me focus on the diet and exercise.

I print out my surgeon's requirements and take them to my doctor for a brief consultation.

The nurse takes my weight and blood pressure ("120/70, you're as healthy as a horse, girl") and turns me over to her boss, who comes right in like she's waiting in the wings. I like her new hairdo and say so.

We go through the requirements and write out a series of lab requests. I'm out of there in ten minutes with her blessing.

Downstairs, I go first to the Medical Records window and update the release so that lab results can be sent to Dr. Reed. Then I backtrack to Lab and sit down at the intake window.

"What can we do for you?" asks Young Thing, whom I haven't seen here before.

"Just a CBC today, thanks," handing her the form. She asks the usual: date of birth address, insurance ...

Knitted eyebrows. Here it comes.

"Ummm ... is [boy name] your husband?"

"No, he's my former self," I offer a fragile smile.

Young Thing Number Two In Second Window looks over at us, eyebrows cocked.

Do I see a little extra color in Young Thing Number One's cheeks?

From there, I drive over to Terry's new office for "south pole" work. She's on the second floor of a clinic and general office building; I miss her country house and her splendid Golden Retriever. I'm not due to arrive for another hour and I know she's not in, but I need someplace to prep and a little food in me to go with the meds.

Next door there's a fast food place. I pop in, and I'm the only customer. I sail through the winding queue ropes anyway, wings extended, which brings a chuckle from the staff.

"Umm, chicken sandwich?"

"They're two-for-one right now, getcha two?" asks the cashier. She's a cute, round butterball with dimples.

"Noooo, If I take two, the other one will disappear before I get home."

"You're that hungry, why doncha eat it?"

"Gotta lose weight."

"Oh."

"Operation coming up."

"Oh." Makes a sad face, then a happy face. "Here or to go?"

I lock myself in their restroom later, pull up my dress, and lather myself from a tube of lidocaine, cover the mess with plastic wrap, and waddle primly out to the wagon.

Rummage in car pocket.

No painkillers. Disaster!

What to do? My meds are fifteen miles away. Appointment in half an hour.

Wait! Brainstorm. In the far back there's a plastic tub, taped shut with duct tape — my 9/11 kit. I dig it out, peel the tape, and read labels in the fading light. A 35 mm film can marked "pain" swims into view. Gotcha! Provided I don't drive for a few hours ...

"How ya doin'?" she greets me.

"I'm here."

My stock answer. This always throws people off the first couple of times, but what I mean by it is that I don't know how I'm doing, because the day isn't over yet. The present, which is where everything is, happens just before we're aware of it, that is to say, consciousness runs in the memory's wiring. In a sense, we can only look back. We have no idea where we're going. So, for me, it's the honest answer. Not Dead Yet. Ergo, pretty good really.

"If you say so. Are we gonna do an hour, or more?"

"I'm set for an hour below, and as much as we care for of face after."

"OK, hop up here, I'm all set."

I like her new office. She has a clean sense of style and is adding Persian rugs with matching chairs, prints, and plants — including the biggest jade tree I've ever seen — one at a time, getting a feel for how the place is going to be. The layout — waiting room, medical-secretary station, examination room — looks like it was set up for a one-doctor practice.

Bzzzt.

"O.K?"

"O.K. so far."

Bzzzt.

In this position, reversed on the table, I can wear my hearing aid to listen to my surroundings and also converse. My eyes travel around the ceiling and walls, courting color, seeking details to dwell on. But the needle is insistent.

In my hearing aid, which i don't wear during face work, there's a tiny pop just before the buzz of the electricity and a matching tiny pop after. Haven't heard that before. Must be a switch on the rod or something.

The pain is already reaching the no-go level, with half an hour left.

I start singing.

I don't know a lot of songs; love to sing but prefer to have a hymnal or songbook in front of me.

I try out "Careless Love," "Wreck of the 97," "Waiting on a Train" (with the yodels) and "TB Blues."

Bzzzt.

You know anything cheerful?" she asks.

Umm, not really. "How about "'Kumbaya?'"

"Oh, come on!"

"Well, there's 'Put Another Log on the Fire.'"

"Let's have some radio." She reaches for the boombox on the side table.

Sigh.

Bzzzt.

After awhile, she moves around to the other side.

"Lemme ask you something, if it's O.K. ... When you were a guy, did you ever have a name for this thing? Cuz' it seems like guys generally do?"

"Ahh, well ... it was Rufus."

"Rufus?" She's chuckling.

"What ... you prefer, maybe, Andy? George?"

Chuckle. Bzzzt.

"And anyway," I add, "It's all moot now."

"What's his technique? Your surgeon, I mean? Heh, heh. Sorry for how that came out."

"Uh, eclectic, he says. Meaning adapts to your presentation or something. But it's mostly penile inversion."

"Hollow it out and turn it around?"

"Mm-hmm. But he's way more interested in depth and looks than I am. You have to go twice."

"Second one's for pretty?"

"Labiaplasty, right."

"Are ya worried? Or excited?"

Bzzzt.

"Not worried ... not about the surgery."

"What about, then? If ya don't mind my askin'."

"I'm worried about the thallium stress test. He has to know how well my heart works."

I sit up and try to look her right in the magnifying glasses. Except she's rapidly getting blurry.

"I — it's — I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't do the surgery ... hnnnnnn ...wuh ...wuh."

"Here's some tissues."

"Thanks ... "