I visited my local doctor yesterday for a follow-up because he wanted to see how I was recovering from FFS in Boston. When he came in the room, he said he thought I looked both dramatically different and also subtly changed.
This seeming paradox is hard to explain — how can you be both radically different and subtly the same? Transsexuals (and many of their friends) expect to see someone different emerge in 4 weeks time, and this expectation is simply unrealistic: if you expect to be a different person after FFS, you’ll be disappointed. The key to this paradox is that what you see in the mirror (or what your friends and family see when they look at you) is greatly dependent on what you’re looking for. If, for example, you’re looking for traces of your old face, then that’s all you’ll see, and you’ll wonder just what you spent that FFS money for. On the other hand, if you’re looking for flickerings of your new face, interrogating yourself if the face says “female” yet, that’s what you’ll see, too. The truth (if “truth” is a word we can use in this situation) is that your changes lie somewhere in between the extremes of “nothing has changed” and “everything is different.”
The new face is obviously a continuation of the old face — we don’t make a clean break from our past, and we who went under the knife are perhaps the worst to judge how we look. Psychologically, we will always carry our body history with us so that the reflection is never, never how we really look. And in terms of simple healing, it takes months and months of extremely subtle changes before your face finally settles down into its shape.
Changing one’s sex is a long, expensive, and emotionally draining business, and I find that I am already mentally moving along to other things. It is simply not productive to sit around staring in the mirror waiting for clues of my new face. This new face, like my body, my hormones, my clothes, will evolve, and I’m sure I’ll catch myself from time to time and say, “Wow, I really look different.” I already see it frequently these days — 18 months of hormones have substantially changed me. But if I plant myself in front of a mirror to take stock of my changes, I cannot see anything different about me. Where I do feel the differences is when I catch short glimpses in the reflections of windows, mirrors, or photographs, and in these cases, I find that I’m quite surprised. For example, I saw some photos that Mary Jo took while our family was at the Grand Canyon the other day, and we were previewing them on the digital camera. I came across one of a woman standing with the broad vista of the canyon behind her, and I assumed Mary Jo had taken a picture of some random woman, and I asked, “who’s that?” I looked more carefully and realized it was me! What an odd feeling it was, but it vanished quickly and the figure became me and the strangeness of her look faded until it was just plain old me again.
I suppose this is the way it is with any of our life changes, not just the transsexual ones. We don’t notice getting older until we see a picture of us from 10 or 20 years ago, and suddenly, there they are, the cumulative changes staring you in the face. We see our changes in photos and we catch them in the momentary glimpses of mirrors that reveal the disconnect between how we think of ourselves and how we actually are.
There’s really nothing to be done about it — we can run and run to try to stop changes, whether they be brought about through aging or experience or transsexual transitions. We can fear these changes or we can love the changes. As transsexuals, we can become obsessed with them, with moving along faster, with constant change, perhaps making up for a feeling of having been congealed for so much of our lives, but no matter how impatient we are, what will happen is that we will run headlong into the inevitable fact of the slowness of changing sexes, every day a hundredth of a percent change, imperceptible but also inevitable.
But time scales behave oddly because of the relative nature of how we perceive time. For my own part, I feel time moving both slowly and quickly, depending on what I’m doing or thinking about, but I think most my friends see my changes as a runaway freight train. Think of it — by the time they were brought into my confidence, my crisis was already peaking, and they only caught the end of it. For them, the time-lapse photography seemed to happen in an instant: bearded George one month, beardless George the next month, androgynous George another month, and then Joyce the next month. Perhaps it has been disruptive, my sense of the time scale bumping up against theirs, my reflection on my progress at odds with their direct view of events. It must be a bit like reading about Alice as she looks at her mirror, pretending that
“the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare.”… And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.
When she has gone through to the other side, she says something my friends might say about me during this past few months as they have caught that last glimpses of George vanishing through the transsexual mirror: “I feel somehow as if I was getting invisible—”