January 2009

I’ve written elsewhere about finally feeling whole, and I think being whole has a lot to do with integrity, not just in some sort of metaphoric way, but in a literal and linguistic way. When engineers talk about structural integrity, they mean that all the parts work as they should and no parts have been compromised through damage or wear. Being whole in this way means the object is sound and strong, or is at least operating as well as it can.

Integrity is related to mathematics so that we can talk about integers, or whole numbers that are not divided.

Applied to our personalities, integrity means being a whole person, sound in judgment, honest, and trustworthy. If you have integrity, you don’t sneak around and say one thing to one party and something different to another party. You are whole and consistent, just as the machine in the first paragraph.

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship’s hull.
c.1450, “wholeness, perfect condition,” from O.Fr. integrit√©, from L. integritatem (nom. integritas) “soundness, wholeness,” from integer “whole” (see integer). Sense of “uncorrupted virtue” is from 1548.

Integrate (the verb), then, is the action of bringing together disparate parts so that they function as a whole, and I feel integrated in two very important ways, self-integration and social-integration.

When I began my transsexual transition, I felt that my actions might harm me and others, but that I needed to do it to maintain my integrity, or my wholeness with myself. I felt extremely fragmented at the time, and by lying to myself and to others, certainly could not have been said to have integrity. What I have learned is that not only do I feel as if I have personally re-integrated my disparate selves, but that I have also become a more whole member of my community. No longer do I feel as if I’m standing apart of life’s rich feast, but am an integral part of my society.

I’m going under the knife tomorrow to get rid of a bunch of little (and some not-so-little) benign fatty lumps called lipomas that live all over my body, and I had to go through an intake process yesterday, the first such one I’ve ever done as Joyce.

Not wanting to hide anything, but also not wanting to declare to every nurse and receptionist that I was a transsexual, I decided I’d answer everything truthfully, volunteer nothing more, and see how long it took before I was “busted” as being “really a man.”

My first test came on the phone, when the surgery center called to get my basic information. One of the questions was, “Are you married?” Yes, I responded. “What’s your husband’s name?”

“Mary Jo.” Pause.

“O… K…. So….. his name is Mary Jo?”

Her name is Mary Jo,” I said.

“I see,” said the voice on the other end, “You’re in a same sex relationship.” Yes, I said, and encountered no problems at all. I think the same-sex relationship rationale is much higher on people’s list of explanations for a Joyce-and-MaryJo relationship than “oh, she used to be a man, and Mary Jo was his wife, and now that he’s changed his name and sex, he answers this way about his/her spouse.”

My second test took the form of Beverly, the surgical intake nurse, who examined me, took blood, and did an EKG yesterday. She and I hit it off just great, talking about the Beatles, my riding boots with low heels, my jewelry, and many other chatty subjects. When we did the EKG, I had to lift my shirt up to my neck for all those sticky pads, and I was quite glad for torso laser hair removal, which (I assume) makes for a plausibly female torso. In going through the questionnaire, she asked if I had had a hysterectomy, to which I said no. “OK,” she said without looking up from her clipboard, “Do you still have periods?” I answered no, and she was satisfied, even though the word “still” implies that I once had periods. Again, her script to explain this is menopause, which is a lot simpler than “she must be a transsexual.”

She sent me to X-ray for chest film (my third test), and I had to fill out this very small form that asked a) Is there any chance you could be pregnant? b) Date of last period, and the answers were No and N/A. The nurse said, “Why is that? Has it been more than a year?” Yes, I said, and the x-ray desk was satisfied that I was post-menopausal.

My fourth test was the x-ray technician herself. Being disrobed above the waist, I felt a bit vulnerable, but was again happy to have invested taking all those hormones and getting rid of all that hair.

I went back and Beverly told me all about the rules for surgery, emphasizing no makeup (rats!) and only clear nail polish, among the more serious prohibitions like no aspirin, no food after midnight, no blood thinners, and those sorts of things.

Now, my friends, this is clearly a very mundane encounter, but you can tell from what I’ve chosen to focus on that I’m kind of surprised there’s not a big note in red letters in my file that says “She’s a Tranny!” I am also curious as to what you feel is appropriate to answer about hysterectomies, periods, husbands, and those sorts of questions. I toyed with the idea of answering, “I was born without a uterus” as my explanation, and that’s true, of course, without explaining that I was also born with some other equipment, instead. [I don’t know how they would react if I checked “prostate exam” and “mammogram” as two procedures I was having done.]

I am not in stealth mode and am happy to answer with the full truth if it’s material to the subject at hand, but it seems to me I’ve disclosed quite enough in talking about my hormones, surgeries, doctors, insurance cards, photo id’s, and marital status.

Who has authority over my life, my body, my choices? I do, of course. In fact, “authority” is a wonderful concept to describe power over our actions. I’m a writer, and you may have noticed that a lot of metaphors I’ve used in this blog involve writing, such as when I talked about living in someone else’s script in “Inner Child,” and about erasing narratives in “Narrative Erasures,” and about the poetic images of loss in “Lost and Found,” to name a couple.

Most people tend to think of the concept of “authority” as something roughly equivalent to “law” or “power,” and that’s obviously a major aspect of the word. However, if you’ll stare at the word for a second, you’ll notice how clearly “author” is the core part of the word. Power and the ability to write are inextricably linked in this word so that just as serenity is the quality of being serene, authority is the quality of being an author, or more simply, “authorship.”

The reason this matters to me and to this blog is that for the longest time, I felt I needed some sort of external authority to heal me: a doctor, a relationship, a therapist, a family member. I didn’t feel I had sufficient authority to face my own demons and to make the change that was so desperately needed. I did not feel that I was authorized, which is to say, I did not feel as if I had the right or the power to be the valid author of my own life.

You can gain authority through academic degrees, self-study, trade guilds, apprenticeships, and a number of other ways that involve receiving power/rights from another party. But you can also self-authorize. Compare what I wrote about legitimacy and authenticity, and you’ll see that authority is a common thread that ties those two concepts together. Legitimacy often comes from others in the form of laws, degrees, certifications, and so on, but authenticity connotes a self-empowerment that doesn’t necessarily require outside influence. In the same way, authority may be conferred upon you and you may also accrue power (authority) to yourself. [See the end of this post for the dictionary definitions.]

When you’ve done this, you are no longer living in someone else’s script written about you, in which you’re a character with externally written motivations and actions. To come back to the first sentence and ask who’s got the authority over your life, you’re asking who is writing your life. You can let someone else write you, inscribing you with nouns that label you, adjectives that describe you, and verbs and adverbs that animate you and allow/constrain you to certain actions. If someone else writes your life, you’re an actor in their movie. It is far too easy to lose control of our own lives and begin to feel inadequate compared to all the normal people living normal lives inscribed by norms all around us. We feel out of control and we look at those norms and say, “that’s the safe route — that’s what society wants. I’ll just follow that script for a while, and then when I’m comfortable, I’ll return to my dreams.”

But when you take responsibility for your life, when you burn the scripts that write you from the outside and begin writing your own actions, you accrue power over your life. Like Adam and the beasts of the fields, you get to name yourself, to define the range of actions that put your character into action. Empowering? Absolutely. Frightening? You bet. Being the author of your life means you need to be willing to erase some bad lines, revise this paragraph because it’s just not working, reorganize your structure, consult the dictionary, do some research, and generally animate the process of creating your life-text.

That’s hard and trying business, but so is allowing someone else to write your life, the costs of which include the loss of autonomy, the feeling of helplessness, the fatalistic surrender to the script.

Should we throw away all the ready-made scripts inscribing us? Not necessarily. This essay isn’t a call to anarchy (in the form of self-creative-writing), but rather a call to re-vision — to re-view and re-see your life. Maybe you don’t need to rip whole pages from the script, preferring to scribble in the margins or add a sentence here, delete a paragraph there, to ultimately see writing as a process of constant tweaking instead of a firm product.

Having recently laid aside the pen in favor of the pencil, I feel wonderful about this process.

The authorities we see around us are empowered to write laws, to enact scripts that impact us, to determine right from wrong. In fact, take a quick look at the definitions of authority below, and you notice the overlap overlap between power and expertise. Let’s apply this same power and expertise to our own bodies and lives.


1. the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.
2. a power or right delegated or given; authorization: Who has the authority to grant permission?
3. a person or body of persons in whom authority is vested, as a governmental agency.
4. Usually, authorities. persons having the legal power to make and enforce the law; government: They finally persuaded the authorities that they were not involved in espionage.
5. an accepted source of information, advice, etc.
6. a quotation or citation from such a source.
7. an expert on a subject: He is an authority on baseball.
8. persuasive force; conviction: She spoke with authority.
9. a statute, court rule, or judicial decision that establishes a rule or principle of law; a ruling.
10. right to respect or acceptance of one’s word, command, thought, etc.; commanding influence: the authority of a parent; the authority of a great writer.
11. mastery in execution or performance, as of a work of art or literature or a piece of music.
12. a warrant for action; justification.
13. testimony; witness.

There I was, cooking meat and salmon on the grill, just as I always do for our faculty poker parties, when all of a sudden, as I sat at the table sampling my food, here came a box of presents and everyone was singing “Happy Birthday to you.” Surprise party, right? Yes, but with a wonderful twist. Mary Jo explained that since this was my first birthday as Joyce and I had missed out on years (OK, decades) of feminine gifts, people should feel free to go whole-hog and give me the girliest, frilliest, most feminine gift they could imagine.

I got soaps, lotions, unguents, and ointments. I got nail polish and nail kids and hand treatments. I got one of those gel-type eye pads for heat or ice, and I got an herb-infused neck pad that is quite soothing, cold or hot. I got a “Happy 1st Birthday” card and girly pajamas. Someone gave me the Judy Blume book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, which I have since learned every girl has read, but which no boy has ever heard of. While I will never have a period, I can certainly relate to the main character as she waits impatiently for her body to develop with a mixture of wonder and embarrassment.

Mary Jo gave me tights, a girly robe (because my old one screamed male), some earrings, gloves, and many other feminine goodies. And our friend Lisa made (from scratch) one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten. It was part birthday party, part shower, part tutorial into femininity, and there was nothing to do but smile and soak up the gifts, tips, and positive energy.

Sitting there in my kitchen, surrounded by my friends who were free to poke fun at me while also reaffirming my new self, I felt as if this had to be the best birthday ever. Almost a year ago (here and here), I wrote about the question Lana posed about the proper rituals to recognize a transsexual transition, and whether such rituals should be happy, sad, or some mixture of the two. Having celebrated my first birthday as Joyce in this way, I have to say that my friends and Mary Jo struck upon the perfect ritual, warm, thoughtful, and auspicious.

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