Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mom Remebers

I called my mom last night and reminded her of where we were five years ago that night. She was with me in Baltimore and took care of me, emptying my drains, changing my bandages, entertaining me. On the day of the surgery Mom and Anna arrived with me at 7am and stayed in the waiting room the entire four hours of the surgery.

Since that time my mom's memories have faded but she said she remembers two things from that experience. The first was how kind and respectful everyone at Dr. Fisher's office was. The second was that they asked me if they needed to call me a cab for me after surgery to take me back to the hotel. That was when it hit her that people often go through this surgery alone. She said her heart just hurt for them.

I tell this story not to show how amazing my mom is (though she certainly is and that's something I never take for granted). Instead I am writing this to anyone out there who has had to go through surgery alone or will have to go through surgery alone--someone is thinking of you and caring for you. When she says her heart hurts, she means it. It may be of little comfort when you are climbing into a cab alone, but I hope it will mean something when you are lying in a hotel bed and looking at a body that finally makes sense.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Body, Revisited

Five years ago today I was in Baltimore, lying on an table having my chest put back together. In honor of this milestone I have taken a story I wrote shortly after the surgery and cut it down to it's bare bones. Some of what I read had left my memory, some I will never forget. I've left what I feel are the most important parts--less story and more memory/feelings. You can read the full story here.

Anna and I sat silently in the brightly lit exam room. Neither of us knew what to talk about. I wanted to talk to Anna; tell her everything I was feeling but I couldn't open my mouth.

We were left alone to page through a notebook of surgeries, forcing me to face my expectations. I looked at the results. This was a book full of men who had had gone before me. Anna could see that they had not died, my mom could see that they weren't mutilated, and I could just look without having to face a million questions that I could not answer. What I saw was not perfection, but a natural variation. Mine would not be the chest of a man but that of a trans man.

We returned to the hotel room that night sensing the gravity of the next day, but knowing there was nothing more to say. Tomorrow night I was going to fall asleep in a body forever changed. As I tried to sleep fear welled inside me. I wanted to be comforted, told everything was going to be all right, but I couldn’t admit that to anyone.

We arrived back at the office the next morning. I was told to take off all my clothes except my boxer shorts. I sat in silence while Anna held my hand. Our palms were sweating and our fingers freezing. My nipples hardened, unaware they’d soon be sitting in a bowl of ice two feet from the rest of my body. With a flurry of tape measure and purple marker, their cold fingers moved rapidly to measure and mark my chest. I was lead down the hall into surgery feeling very alone.

Four hours later I awoke in a small dark room, freezing cold and about to throw up. Instead I forced myself to speak. “Tell Anna I didn’t die.” As my body temperature slowly returned to normal I remembered to look down at my body and saw myself for the first time. Anna appeared at the door gently asking how I felt while she rubbed my head and fed me ice chips. After no more than five minutes a nurse entered with my clothes. She wrapped my shirt around me and held out my pants for me to climb into. I’d just woken up but one look at her face told me to get dressed.

“Stand up straight,” I heard behind me. “You don’t have breasts anymore.” She had never witnessed me trying to hide a chest that didn't belong but now there was nothing left to hide. I grabbed Anna’s arm for support, cautiously put my shoulders back, and made my way to the waiting car.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I just found Jenny Holzer's Twitter page which is really a continuation of the Truisms series that she began in 1977. (If you're not familiar with Holzer's work I highly recommend checking it out.) Anyway, I was reading through her posts and found one that particularly resonated.


I don't think it would have been possible for me to go through life without knowing myself, but there were and still are certainly moments where I wished I could pretend I had no idea. I don't think I could have truly become myself without transitioning, but there was certainly a time where acknowledging my self-awareness was the most frightening thing I had ever faced. If I acknowledged that I knew who I was, then I would have no choice but to do something about it. That is the other part of the equation. Integrity requires that once you know yourself, you then must become yourself.

Many people don't know who they are. They are stuck going through motions, but ignorance can be bliss. For some people that is happiness and I have no problem with that. Then there are those who know who they are, what they need and where they should go, but they do nothing. I find this incredibly frustrating. Self-awareness is a ride you can't get off of. Once you start you can't stop. But if you have done the work to know yourself you've already done the difficult part. Self-awareness is crippling, but knowledge without action will paralyze.

There are still times where I want to go back, still moments where I long for it to be easier, but we tend to remember things much better than they are. It was never easy and being here is worth it.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

You don't know what you've got 'til its gone

I've been incredibly lax about writing lately. I don't have any excuse other than laziness, but I do think the lack of compulsion to write has been somewhat telling of where I am in my life.

I got a new license a few months ago. I didn't realize how much legally changing my name and gender would affect me. It was something I had put off for a long time. I didn't want to deal with it, I didn't want to spend the money on it and I found it incredibly unfair that I had to do it at all. My legal name didn't come up much, it only caused the occasional inconvenience, it wasn't a big deal, it was important to recognize my female past--I came up with any number of excuses to put it off as long as possible.

The saying you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone applies to negative as well as positive. I didn't realize how much fear and anxiety I was carrying around in my back pocket until it was no longer there. I could show my license in a small Midwestern airport and not fear the questions, not wear bulky clothes to try to look female-ish, not be scared to speak. I could rent a car without fearing an awkward confrontation. I could buy beer in a small town and not fear for my physical safety.

I didn't realize the stress and fear i was carrying in my body and self, how my ID affected my self confidence and personal sense of safety. Now that its legal, my transition is completely on my terms. I can tell only who I want. Those that do not need to know can also be told, but I retain the power. My identity is truly my own.

I still had to go through and change my name with the credit cards and phone company but now I had the law on my side. I was legitimate in my request. I am still angry that the law has this much power over my gender, but I can't deny the strength and confidence this has given me.

I still get the occasional junk mail addressed to Elizabeth. I didn't realize until now that I used to actually feel embarrassed. Now I feel indignant. Indignant and a little embarrassed that I ever felt embarrassed. Transitioning will always be an incredibly emotional process but you don't know what emotional baggage you're carrying until you suddenly leave it behind. For a moment I stopped transitioning and started living. It felt really good to be boring.