January 2008

Something has happened.

Just when I think I get a handle on this whole transition, something happens to reveal yet another layer of complexity or beauty or awe. Maybe it was the extremely low weekend, which left me nowhere to go but up. Maybe it was finally telling Milo and Annabelle yesterday. Maybe it was meeting with Chuck today. Maybe it was my visit to the library on Monday to begin collecting new information about my April 11th paper and finally feeling like I could return to academic research after a very long and painful absence. Maybe it was meeting in an omnibus therapy session Monday with Chuck, Mary Jo, and her therapist, Cheryl, in which we got to issues of Mary Jo’s pain at having to be the strong one for me, and never being able to rely on my being the strong one for her. Maybe it was the call out of the blue from my lifelong friend Slade to tell me he would be visiting on Feb 13th, approximately the same date I had intended to write him. Maybe it was writing Gerald out in Santa Barbara today and receiving an amazing reply. Maybe it was Miles and Khloe’s frantic phone call last night about gossip. Maybe it is the incredible and adaptable love of my children.

Whatever its origins, I feel I’ve entered an entirely new and beautiful stage of this process. And I’m not worried at all. I feel not only surprisingly calm but magically excited to be connected to so many loving friends.

Where did the sense of impending doom go? Where is that train wreck? What happened to the fear and depression? I’m sure these things haven’t gone for good, but I feel as if they’ve been driven far into the shadows by unseen, but related, forces of love and friendship.

I can hardly keep up my thinking and writing with the pace of surprise and revelation — I feel like Whitman, lying in the grass and simply marveling at it all, the grandeur of nature, the magical connections between events that create meaning, the infinite possibility of it all. Where’s my stenographer, my scribe? I’ve got this burning ember in my hand, but by the time I make it to the computer, it’s faded, and all I’ve got is my recollection of its intensity.

There must be something about a friend breaking down and finally coming to grips with her essential self that brings people together, and I’m realizing that I’m part a group that’s growing and whose love, acceptance, and understanding is simply astounding. It’s all quite incredible (literally, because it’s hardly believable, and I wouldn’t have believed it possible 12, 6, or even 1 month ago). And what’s most weird and beautiful and incredible isn’t the trans-ness, at all, but rather the depth of feeling and connection that exists across time and distance in this web of friendship.

I am incredibly lucky and blessed.

I have loved 7 men in my life, not counting my father and uncle, and while I do not have a biological brother, there is no doubt that these 7 men are my brothers. [I can add another one or two to a hybrid category called big brother, who, while not as intense as these relationships, has been nonetheless critical in my life — I’ll do that elsewhere.] These relationships were/are deep, trusting, emotional, adventuresome, and intellectual. If, according to my post about the women I’ve loved, I wanted to be those women, then I equally wanted to be the men who make up my band of brothers. In order of my meeting them, here’s the roster:

Slade, 1966, elementary school
Zuboff, 1978, college
Clarke, 1978, college
Michael, 1978, Gail’s (my first marriage) brother
Gerald, 1983, graduate school
Will, 1985, graduate school
Milo, 2000, colleague

In reflecting on these men, I think we were all similar in many respects. We loved to play — I just don’t spend time with people who don’t have a highly developed sense of play (verbal, intellectual, and physical). We loved to take chances, skydiving, camping, rock climbing, being pilots, starting businesses, setting out on a road trip with no destinations. We all loved music and loved listening to it together in apartments or driving around in cars. We all liked hard work — we fixed cars, built fence, balanced financial and accounting books, sold goods and services. I think each of us found in each other a little strength to try new things, to express new or quirky ideas, to share stories about our past that had never been told, to lower our masculine guard because we trusted each other–with our lives, our ideas, and our hearts.

Not all of these relationships are still active. Some are still there, but dormant, while others have been severed through death, distance, or lack of interest.

Michael killed himself in Northern California with carbon monoxide, the victim of a broken heart and no coping skills. His suicide in 1985 still haunts me. I hated him, pitied him, mourned for him, stammered out explanations for him, fell helpless again the onslaught of despair brought on by his karma. We were brothers who shared all those ideals, above. Just when I had begun to get used to learning to love, he abandoned me.

Clarke made a Faustian bargain and dropped out of my circle. I’ve written about this in a story called “All the Secrets in the World”: perhaps I’ll post it here for your enjoyment. His mysterious vanishing in 1988 was crushing. He told me he had a chance to learn all the secrets of the cold war, but if he took the job, he would have to forget his past. We talked about it for days during a visit he paid me, and when he left I felt we had arrived at the right solution, namely, that he’s stay my friend. I never heard from him again.

Dormant, but still filled with potential and constant thoughts, are the following:

Zuboff, tortured wandering soul who stuck with me through all sorts of travails and adventures, but could not adapt to my marriage to Mary Jo and the birth of my children. I guess our relationship was, to him, one of happy bachelors. We talk from time to time, and I wish him well, hoping he finds some place (mental or physical) of peace.

Will and I spent so much time together in the firm that we created that we often didn’t have to talk, although he was always the talker of our duo. Fast-talking east coast worldly sophistication against my western bumpkin drawl, we made an odd couple. We moved apart in order to support our families, but can drop right into the same spot we left off last time.

Gerald, perhaps the wisest of the bunch, was part mentor, part friend, part brother, part guide. He called on me to help him out and I did the same — when Michael killed himself, it was Gerald who drove the motorcycle the 500 miles to be with us. I miss his wit, his musical talents, and his philosophy, and am overjoyed that we are re-building connections right now.

The last two are active.

Slade, the most conservative of the bunch on the face of it, but the most willing to take large risks. He’s the one who throws himself on the grenade to save me, and I him. We survived grade school, junior high, high school together. We have kept in contact through college, graduate school, jobs. We were at each other’s weddings and will be at each other’s funerals. Slade is my big brother, my protector, my deepest love.

Milo entered my life a colleague at a time when I thought the era of brotherly love had ended. I had put away childish things in order to be a professor, to raise children, to be a good husband. Milo instantly broke through — it was as if we had known each other for decades. Not that we had the same paths to these current jobs, but that we found so many similar things fascinating. We are drawn to maps, devices, systems, parts. We love to pun and muse and brainstorm. We are skeptical of blowhards who don’t realize how they come across. We both probably strike a stance that is more humble than is warranted. We love teaching and researching. We love adventure of all sorts.

Telling these men about my trans-ness is the hardest part next to telling my family. I need their approval and fear their rejection. So far I have told Milo and Gerald, and they have been nothing but accepting. I pray that Slade and William, who are on my schedule to tell in a couple of weeks, will be equally accepting. I wrote Clarke a Christmas card to an address I tried to dig up for his city, but nothing ever happened. Zuboff will be ok, I think, but will be concerned that I’m buying in to conventional conceptions of beauty and femininity, and perhaps he’s right.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love another man like I have these seven. I don’t know if my transition will forever alter these relationships, possibly in harmful ways. This situation of mine, like so many of our collective other adventures, simply requires deep love and trust and a leap of faith that everything will turn out all right. It’s worked before, so maybe it’ll work this time.

[See also “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before“]

Saw Khloe in the hall today, and we sat in a lounge talking while she ate lunch. I showed her my Boston pictures, and she didn’t run screaming from the room, which was a good thing.

A graduate student came in to get lunch and to lie down on the couch, but Khloe and I just shifted into talking generally about things, being careful to avoid touching on anything particular.

Or so I thought.

Tonight, Miles and Khloe called me to say that another grad student had told Miles that he had been told by the couch-resting student that Dr. Bailey and Khloe were having a very strange personal conversation that seemed to touch on the performance of gender, drag, sex changes, and that sort of thing, and she was speculating that Dr. Bailey was having a sex change.

“I protest,” said I to Miles on the phone. “I don’t do drag.” 🙂

In all seriousness, I said, I figure there’s no point in writing her and saying “forget what you heard” because that will simply confirm her suspicions. Miles and I talked about the full disclosure with the truth hidden in plain sight, as in Poe’s “The Purloined Letter”), which would go thusly: “It’s not professional to talk about personal conversations you have overheard. And even if you were to talk, you ought to understand what you think you heard before speculating. Dr. Bailey certainly doesn’t do drag, but he and Khloe are definitely interested in gender as performance, in how we construct our identities through our dress, our mannerisms, and our language, and he would be happy to share his research thoughts with you any time, if you’re interested.”

I don’t know if that will keep things burning slower rather than faster, but whatever happens, it’s all going to happen in a few months, anyway.

I’ll be at school tomorrow and I’ll see if grad students eye me suspiciously (or, I should say, more suspiciously than normal).

I’ve been having an awfully hard time of things lately, crying at night, descending into bad places, and not recognizing all the good things I’ve got. I have my health, my family, my job, my intellect, my friends. I work in an industry (education) where I am virtually assured of tolerance and perhaps even happy acceptance. I feel like I’m on an adventure where I get to do everything I ever dreamed of doing, and am able to do everything I need to do to stay sane and healthy.

There is another part of me, probably unrelated to transsexual issues, that weighs on me. I am afraid of letting people down, of being rejected, of being seen as a failure. I’ve always been like this, and I think it must have to do with my role in my family as the golden child. For all my family’s faults, and there were many, they could always count on me to achieve good things, things worth bragging about at the drugstore, holiday gatherings, and country club soirees.

It’s not that I don’t want to do good things, but I feel obligated to not screw up, to uphold some sort of undefined standard for several generations of my family, most of whom are dead. That familial expectation has evidently been burned into my synapses; although I’m aware of it and understand it intellectually, I seem to be helpless to resist it emotionally, and am thus tossed into the ring to fight without gloves or training against an invisible opponent who left the building years ago.

I grieve, but I am not always sure of the object of that grief. I grieve for my dead parents. I grieve for my masculine self, who is disappearing. I grieve for my children’s innocence. I grieve for the happy little child I was at one time — she’s buried under decades of sadness and I only give her a slim chance of surviving. I grieve for my wife, who is losing her husband.

I also grieve for my golden child status — I cling to it somewhere, somehow, even though I feel it harms me. And I grieve without an object of grief — and this formless sadness is hard to deal with. This is definitely the hour of lead, as Dickinson puts it, and I have to find a way to both outlive it and also somehow get to “letting go.”

After being scolded by my friends on MyHusbandBetty and directly via blog readership for having left the discussion where it stood yesterday and for having framed my situation as a secret, I talked to the boys again tonight.

My main observation is this, and I had not known this or realized it earlier: It’s a lot easier for me to talk to them separately than together. Maybe it feels like I’m going to get tag-teamed if it’s both of them?

Ezra has a fever, which is probably why he couldn’t sleep last night and crawled in bed with us. His throat started hurting today at school, and he was in one of those lethargic moods this evening. I left Lane doing his homework downstairs and took Ezra upstairs to tuck him in. I asked him if the reason he couldn’t sleep last night was because of what we talked about on the trampoline yesterday, and he said no. I said, “well, it used to be my secret, but what I should have said is that I have learned to tell people about those things, including Mom, and that makes me feel better. So it’s really not a secret at all, and you can talk about it or ask me about it.”

He said it was ok and he wasn’t worried. We talked a while longer, then I tucked him in and left him to read.

Downstairs, I repeated the same discussion with the older one, Lane, when we had finished his division and multiplication homework. He said it was ok and that he hadn’t been worried about it.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that they both don’t have problems with what I’ve told them so far, but I don’t think it’s a disaster right now. 1. They know it’s important to me because I said it was and I have brought it up twice. 2. They know Mom’s ok with it and they can ask her and me questions. 3. They know I care what they think and feel.

PS — Mary Jo just got home and told me that she also talked to the boys this afternoon about my true self, so that’s three messages in 24 hours.

Dear readers, I am sure I’m making many missteps, but we have a terrific relationship and I really have to pick my way through this disclosure based on how things are going at the time. I’m unsure about the techniques and outcomes of so much of this transition (particularly the interpersonal parts), lacking a manual or a standard operating procedure on how to do it, and I’m also unsure about my own objectivity — still, all I have are my gut feelings about how it’s going, and in the absence of hard data, it’s the best I’ve got.

I can do anything if my children are with me and, conversely, I feel as if everything will be hopeless if they aren’t with me. My two boys, Lane and Ezra, are the most beautiful things in my life. I am horribly torn between utter self-loathing at myself for transitioning and thus hurting them and their image of their father, and excitement at telling them and sharing with them something so wondrous and new that there’s nothing else to do but to share it.

The time has come to talk about IT, the big IT, and Mary Jo and I have talked with other trans-couples about telling kids, have posted on MyHusbandBetty about it, have talked about it, have talked with our therapists about it. I began to realize that I’m just going to have to follow my gut and do it however I can, as I’m beginning to have trouble living with myself knowing I’m maintaining a lie to the two people who matter the most in my world.

This afternoon, we all jumped on the trampoline for a very long time, playing every sort of game we could think of. It was a beautiful blue sky, 70-degrees and breezy (in the dead of winter, no less!), and we were rolling around and feeling very close. It’s something I love to do with my children.

We were lying there, tired, watching the clouds, and I said, “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure, Dad,” said Ezra.

“I’ve had this strange feeling all my life, even since I was your age. I’ve always felt that I had a girl’s brain in my boy body.” Pause, while they both get quiet and look at me as if I’ve been beamed to their location from a flying saucer hovering above us. “And when you’re like that, you know what it feels like? It makes you feel weird because you’re really not who you feel you should be. Over the years, being like this makes you feel sad and angry and helpless, and that’s the way I’ve been for years.”

Utter silence. Lane has rolled over, face down on the trampoline. Ezra is looking out into the cotton fields nearby. I wait for questions, but none are uttered. “Do you ever feel like you’re you’ve got a different kind of brain — maybe an alien brain or a sports brain or something?” I ask, racking my girl-brain for something to keep us talking. “No, says Lane,” flatly. OK, I think, at least they’re not screaming, but they’re not dancing for joy, either. I decided to hold off on the next part, the part where I tell them I’m changing. Maybe I should have plowed ahead, but their silence told me they were mulling over this possibility that their dad had a girl’s brain, and maybe that will need time to be processed.

They both sat up, looked around, and announced, “Well, we’re going inside,” and jumped off the trampoline and went into the house. Meager progress, I realize, but I’m not unhappy. I figure it’s a start and the subject is there for them to mull over. It’ll give me something to build on.

I’m a little disappointed, but also relieved that I didn’t have to break their hearts entirely today. There will be plenty of time for heartbreak later.

In some ways, this entry will be relatively easy, as I’m going to relate how my due diligence on FFS surgeons culminated in my visit to Boston last week. On the other hand, it’s a hard entry because I have developed some opinions of some of my transgendered sisters that are not flattering in the course of this due diligence. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or pass any judgment on anyone, as this surgical decision is entirely my own. However, I will make general comments about the way certain transwomen look that will reveal my priorities for myself and my opinion of the role of beauty/glamour in society, and these comments may run counter to your own ideas of beauty. So let me apologize, dear reader, if you are the target of my criticism — I don’t know of any other way to explain my visits with FFS surgeons without bringing up these issues.

I won’t go into all my reasons for seeking some plastic surgery on my face — these reasons are pretty similar to other MTF transsexuals who would like to live a carefree life after transition. I did a virtual FFS (which involves retouching photos in Photoshop) about 10 months ago, and the recommendations of my surgeons overlap Alexandra’s recommendations with only a few gaps. I’m also working on an academic paper about the narrative role of FFS, in case you’re interested.

I had narrowed my surgeons to the top three, Dr. West, Dr. North, and Dr. East. All three have excellent reputations and have many, many fans and followers who swear up and down that their doc is the best in the business. I ruled Dr. West out early because of technique — he’s a big fan of cutting jawbones, removing the offending length or width, then screwing the remaining pieces back together again; the other two surgeons believe in grinding down bones whenever possible, and that appeals to me. Dr. West also the most expensive in the business, not that it matters that much, but I developed an early impression of his maximizing profits rather than maximizing help. There was also just something a little cultish about his followers that turned me off. So when I went to Boston, I was very eager to compare Dr. North and Dr. East by meeting with them individually, listening to their formal talks to the convention, and meeting some of their patients. In fact, the main reason I went to Boston was to make much faster progress on this research project, in addition to the fellowship at the conference.

Dr. North

Friday of the conference was reserved for my private consultations with both doctors. I slept late, got up, cleaned up, repeated what Jason had showed me on my face, and went up to Dr. North’s suite at 11:00 for my consultation. He ushered me into his suite and had me sit on the couch while he directed his minions. Dr. North is a 5′ 8″-ish Chicagoan who is a little chunky but who works out. He’s got a trimmed mustache and wears a nice suit and tie. He does 10 things at once: talking to me, answering his cell phone, flipping through folders, yelling at the door to come in, handing his people a couple of hundreds to get whatever they need to get the operation set up right, ushering me over to the mirror to illustrate a hairline or a muscle, pulling out pictures of his “girls” to show how good he is. He talks of himself and his technique frequently.

Although he listened to my questions, I never felt he understood what I wanted from FFS. I started off feeling a little put off by the steam-engine way he plows ahead and he just made it easier and easier for me to be skeptical. Not only did he want to do what he had written me about, but he volunteered that I ought to have my ears pinned back, one ear shortened, and quite a few other little things done to fix me. He reminded me that he also did boobs and butts. His philosophy is that we can to a lot better for a MTF transsexual than to make them “passable” — we can aim to make them beautiful. He answered all my questions about procedures and techniques and said I ought to come to his presentation that day to get the whole show. “Wouldn’t miss it,” I told him.
Palmer Girls
And I did just that. Wrote in my room a bit, then went down to one of the ballroom breakout rooms to watch the Dr. N show, where all his “girls” were going to show up as kind of a live before-and-after show. And they did. They reminded me of the Robert Palmer girls in their sameness: augmented cheeks, big eyes, thin necks, perky little noses turned up slightly–which are, by the way, the same recommendations he had for “correcting” my face. Although Dr. N was informative and intelligent, I found myself repulsed, frankly. I don’t want to be a clone, but a regular person. I watched his show until time for my appointment with Dr. East, then slid out the back for a bit.

Dr. East

With the Dr. North medicine show fresh on my mind, I went to the lobby, where I was supposed to meet Dr. East and Kelly, his assistant. They were just emerging from the elevator and I said hi, and they said let’s talk over here, and found a table in the hotel restaurant/bar. A little open, I thought, but we’re all friends here, n’est-ce pas? And while not everyone at the conference was interested in having FFS, there wasn’t a soul who wasn’t interesting in seeing the results of surgery that can make a square-jawed man look like a cisgendered female.

Kelly pulled a skull out of her bag and as she held it before placing it on the restaurant table, she briefly looked a little like Hamlet talking about poor Yorick. Dr. East, a mid-40’s, baby-faced academic from Boston University, had on a Jerry Garcia tie and an off-white dress shirt whose right collar was bent straight up in the air. I wanted to reach out and fix it, but thought better of it in case it was some sort of personality test. Dr. East is the antithesis of Dr. North. After looking at my face and my paperwork, he looked me right in the eye and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” A question I had not heard from Dr. North, by the way. I told him I wanted to be real, authentic, legitimate, serious, academic, graceful, dignified and believable (with fame and glory and gravitas without gravity, if possible). He said that he could do all those things for me except fame, glory, and gravitas which I’d have to achieve on my own. Most importantly, he didn’t try to sell me anything, seeming to prefer a minimalist approach to Dr. North’s “full-package” approach.

Dr. North had recommended augmenting my cheeks with 3 mm pads screwed into the cheekbone, and I asked Dr. East his opinion. He said he thought that procedure was unnecessary, and said he knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned that I had noticed a sameness to North’s patients. As a professor, I said, I want to be taken seriously–he responded by pointing out a couple of his patients in the hotel bar, and they looked nothing like the North girls. After talking for a bit he said I should come see his presentation, which I did a couple of hours later.

Dr. North’s presentation is academic, focusing on the constructed nature of beauty and femininity. He is low-tech, but earnest. He took plenty of swipes at Dr. North and Dr. West, which were all along the nature of “I’m a university researcher and surgeon as opposed to a businessman.” He also made it a point in his presentation to talk about the beauty of the girl next door versus the beauty of a Miss America contestant. Having studied ratios of noses to eyes to foreheads for decades, he said his institution had developed a really good sense of femininity and youth, which are closely related as regards to these mathematical ratios.

Dr. East seems to employ the opposite of salesmanship, falling instead on research and experience. Of course, for someone like me, this approach did a better job at selling me on the idea that he is the right surgeon for the job. Therefore, I stand convinced that the masculine features of my face ought to be dealt with by Dr. East and not Dr. North, a conclusion that was one of the main purposes for going to Boston.

See also
Dr. North’s Recommendations
Dr. East’s Recommendations
Alexandra’s virtual FFS assessment of my face

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