How do we conceive of our old selves? Do we shed them like snakeskins and move on with our lives? Or do we honor them by integrating their best parts into the new us? My preference, as you can tell from my tone, is to do the latter. My psyche is permanently bound up with my past, and while I understand why some transsexuals choose to jettison their past, I think it’s sheer folly for me to pretend that George doesn’t exist and never existed.

I wrote a few months ago about the appropriate ritual for a transsexual’s journey and concluded that neither a funeral nor a welcome-home party was up to the task, but that graduation might come close. I have been thinking about this topic on and off during the spring, and in an exchange with JackyV in the comments to “Round the Clock,” I stumbled across another, perhaps much better, metaphor — retirement.

Rather than seeing this transition as a clean break from George, I see this process as the ultimate gift to him. It frees him from his toil, much of which was clueless, but a lot of which involved covering up my existence. He’s a good-hearted man who I hope did all right by family and friends and I genuinely like him. But he’s earned his retirement. I give him permission to stand down, to lay down his arms, to drop his ever-cautious guard that made him reserved and lonely. I want him to get a good night’s sleep and lounge by the pool and live a playful retirement.

But I also want him to write me postcards from his travels from time to time, to impart his wisdom and patience to me, to even share some of his caution and skepticism with me. I want to write him on the cruise that never ends and tell him I’m sorry for causing him so much pain and that I think we’re going to make it. I want to send him pictures of the family he built and let him know that he’s always in our hearts and minds. He may not be present, but he is fully integrated into our family and into my being.

I know family and friends are worried that in sending George into retirement, I will lose my values, my scholarly and administrative skills, and my very being, but that prospect seems unlikely. Sure, I’m going to do things a little differently, present myself in a changed way, emphasize different things in my interactions with others — but my values are ultimately George’s values, even though they may be wrapped up in a different package. I certainly don’t want to let him or his legacy down.

Thanks and bon voyage, George, lifelong protector and conspirator.

One of the easiest shorthand phrases is to say “I’m having a sex change.” Or, more precisely, I guess that’s understood as “I’m having a sex change operation,” which means for most people that you go get your penis cut off and a surgeon fashions a vagina for you. And that makes you female, and thus you’ve enlisted the help of surgeons to facilitate a change of sex.

But if I ask myself honestly if I’m having a sex change operation, I answer honestly that no, I don’t think so. I don’t see any reason to get a vagina since I’m not ever going to go stealth.

So what am I doing? First, giving power to someone else by saying “I’m having a sex change” is deceptive. I’m not having anything. I’m seeking something, and I’m doing something. Is it fair to say, “I’m changing my sex?”

Yes, I think that’s entirely fair and accurate because that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking drugs to change the biochemistry of my body from male to female. I’m actively taking steps to remove male secondary sex characteristics (beard, balding) and to introduce female secondary sex characteristics (breasts, less body hair). I also want, and am seeking, a slow adoption of feminine gender characteristics, which, while not sex proper, are associated with female-ness. Earrings, a certain walk, being more demonstrative, experimenting with my voice, imagining the dress and garb of a professional woman — these are feminine activities.

It’s also that I’m actively planning (perhaps some plans in more concrete form and others more like possibilities) changes in my presentation to the world — thinking of what a suitably feminine name might be, how I’m going to tell people I’m changing, what I’m going to do professionally if I change, etc. I think this mental activity of “changing sex” is huge, and has a lot more to do with a sex-change than genital surgery.

I realize that if I think about this structurally, I have three goals that have emerged in this crisis.

First involves feeling, an internal sense of relations with myself. I want to feel less masculine and more feminine. This change involves biochemistry, therapy, self-acceptance. It is an awakening of other possibilities, akin to gradually opening your eyes in the morning to let little fragments of light into your consciousness. It’s a sobering and challenging set of moments because these feelings may stand in direct conflict with my current existence. You can’t really get outside validation about feeling because it’s nothing more than cognition and self-honesty.

Second involves being less masculine and more feminine, meaning a physical and mental adjustment, and this involves biochemistry, letting go, imagining alternative realities and alternative relations with my being. To me, “being” is allowing the “feeling” to pervade because one can feel joy fleetingly, but not be joyous. One can feel feminine through a variety of techniques, mental and physical, without being (most of the time) feminine. Being involves a gradual shedding of former being and a gradual assimilation of the future being and, while it can’t be forced or faked, does involve visualization, hope, trust, and optimism.

Third is to receive affirmation from outside of myself that I’m female/feminine — the mirror or the digital camera can stand in as a brief proxy for others, just as we can be our own audience for our writing in a pinch by imagining how others might hear our speech. But overall, relations with the world must be social, and this third step involves simple things like presenting myself as female, getting called “ma’am,” being able to go places without being terribly self conscious about formerly being a male. If you’re stealth, I suppose this means simply transitioning physically and starting a new life — however, in my case, it is going to involve telling others and winning them over with my sincerity, along with simply going about my business and hopefully feeling less and less like a transitioner and more and more like a person.

A further goal, perhaps an extension of #3, would be to seek a variety of legal transformations so that one’s official persona also reflects a change — this is a legal, contractual, formal step that involves name changes, getting your sex changed on birth certificates and driver’s licenses, changing wills, personnel forms, and so on. It involves getting Human Resources involved in the bathroom issues and talking to credit bureaus and professional organizations about your change. The more mature you are and the more responsibilities you’ve got, the more extensive this process is. Given the number of sex changes in the past 20 years, however, it seems to me that while burdensome, this process is no longer shocking to most bureaucratic entities. This step is nothing but a vague possible future for me and really is not a plan at all at this stage.

So, am I scheduling a sex change operation? Am I going to go somewhere and be magically transformed from a normal man into a normal woman? Ha! Hardly. I was never a normal man and if I take this route, I’ll never be a normal woman. More importantly, no surgeon is going to move me through these three (or even four) steps I’ve identified above. It’s not something someone does to you.

Am I having a sex change (no “operation”)? Or am I changing my sex? Yes, at least rolling the momentum that direction, yes, probably continuing mental, hormonal, and physical improvements to affect these plans. Maybe leading to announcing some sort of shift to others, but maybe not.

Went to the spa and had my arms and legs waxed — they look great and feel great, but Mary Jo was worried. She said something like “it’s one thing to dress up and go places, but it’s another thing to change your body. I’m worried about what the kids will think.”

I talked with Chuck about this, and I absolutely hate causing her pain. I really don’t know what to do except to go slowly. Chuck agrees.