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—”

On the 15th day after surgery, the blood pool in my eyes continues to diminish, but not without providing amusement to the kids and horror to others. (I wonder what the “fix red eye” command would do in Photoshop?)

My jaw, face, and chin still quite swollen, as you can see from these pictures. I think the nose is a bit swollen, but I really can’t tell.

It’s funny, but as the big swelling has reduced, I’ve become more aware of it, maybe because I’m moving my face muscles more in expression. My lower lip and chin are still numb, so combined with the tightness and soreness, my expressions resemble a stoke victim on the mend. I’m also aware of soreness or tightness in my tendons in my neck, especially below the edge of the jaw. I had previously said I felt I was perhaps 75% healed, but I think I need to realistically revise it to say I’m more like 50%. It’s not nothing, but it’s going to be 2-4 more weeks before I look something like I’ll eventually look.

Thinking that I wanted to anticipate all the possible trouble I might have, a) having no photo ID, b) facing the likelihood of fatigue because surgery, c) looking like a mummy in my face wrap, and d) being a tranny, I figured it would be best to take the 12:30 shuttle to the airport for my 4:00 flight back home. I reckoned that the 1:30 shuttle would simply be cutting it too close if I had trouble with any of those issues.

Upon being let out at the curb at American, I had a wave of fatigue wash over me, so I thought I’d check my bags right there on the curb. After waiting 10 minutes for a family to check in, I told the guy I had no ID, and he said I would have to go inside to talk to a supervisor. Fine with me, I thought, but a tiny doubt began crystallizing in my brain that while I had written the TSA to ask about having no ID, I really hadn’t checked with American Airlines. Remaining optimistic, I went inside, pushed the “baggage only” button on the kiosk, and talked with a supervisor, who took my bag and said there was no problem, and that I needed simply to tell the TSA about my situation. My bag, in other words, would have no problems. He printed me a new boarding pass that had a bunch of S’s on it, presumably to flag the need to screen, screen, screen, then he let me go.

So down the walkway at Logan I went, following what had to be another transsexual woman, a tallish, gray-haired matron from England, and told the TSA guy that I didn’t have my driver’s license. “No problem,” he said. “We’ll just mark you for extra screening. Please move along.”

At the metal detector, everything had gone through the conveyor belt when the man motioned me through. I was holding my boarding pass and I told him I needed extra screening because I didn’t have my ID. “What happened?” he asked, pointing to my face. “Face surgery,” I said. “You don’t have anything we could use?” he asked. “Lots,” I said, and listed the pilot’s license, my faculty library card, credit cards, among others. “We’ll just do the extra screening,” he said, and yelled for “Full Screen, section B,” or something like that. A thin and pleasant-looking woman started coming over, saying, “Female?” My guy kind of mumbled something about “Yeah, presenting female,” and I looked at her and said, “Yes.” So she moved me off to the side and did her inspection of my body while the guys across the Plexiglas swabbed down my shoes and other belongings for traces of bomb-making dust (or fertilizer, which made me glad I was coming from Boston and not Bedford Falls, where it’s pretty easy to run across agricultural fertilizer). As each item cleared, the pimply-faced guy would say “Shoes are OK, ma’am” or “You can take your purse, ma’am.” It smoothed over the “presenting as female” remark from a bit earlier.

But honestly, when you’ve had surgery and have just dodged the feds and are about to make it to the concourse to your freedom, being a tranny is really the least of your worries, and I took my “all is OK” sign happily and walked down to the restaurants with a spring in my step and a throb in my head. And it was only 1:30, to which the angel on one shoulder reminded me that if all had gone wrong, this could have taken much longer, while the devil on my other shoulder was whispering that I should have rested at the hotel or taken a soothing bath instead of being stuck inside the secure area with 2.5 hours until departure.

Time was killed by checking email on the phone, dozing, picking at remaining crusts in my various scar lines, and trying to adjust my bandages so they didn’t feel so mummy-like. I finally hit the bathroom and re-wrapped my head, which made me feel a lot more put-together, and then ate a terrific bowl of marinara soup.

Once aloft, I dozed some more, wrapped from head to toe in the airplane blankets because either this was an especially cold flight or I’ve become much more temperature sensitive. Upon waking, I realized that my head wraps were incredibly disheveled, so I again went to the john to fix myself and put on a little lipstick. I had to wait at the back for the drink service to clear out before I could get back to my seat, and when Ann, the older of the two flight attendants, finally got to me with the empty soda cans and I was just about to go past, she leaned up with a very warm smile and asked “Are you OK, honey? Did you have surgery?” Yes, I said, face surgery, and I was OK. “When did you have this facelift done, if you don’t mind my asking?” “A week ago yesterday,” I said. She smiled from ear to ear and said, “Well you look amazing for only 1 week — I think you’re going to look great, don’t you think?” “Yes,” I said, “I certainly hope so.” “How much did this facelift cost?” Honestly not remembering, I said, “I think it was around $20, $25,000.” “Where are you from?” “Bedford Falls.” “And why’d you go to Boston — is your surgeon in Boston simply better than back home?” “Well, I had a lot of work done, not just fleshy work, and this surgeon is really tops in doing both bones and skin.” She was very interested, standing nice and close, maybe regarding me as a tranny, but more like someone who had done something she wanted to do, as she told me later. “What all did you have done?” I figured if push came to shove, I’d explain that I used to be a man, but there was no reason at this point: “I smoothed out my forehead, had upper and lower eyelids, smoothed out the nose, did a lip lift, and smoothed out a very square jaw and chin.” She nodded sympathetically, incredulously, “And this was just one week ago?” Yes, I told her. “It already looks fabulous, and I bet in another week it’ll be beautiful,” she said warmly. “Now you don’t forget to drink lots of water, OK?”

I thanked her and worked my way back to my chair, feeling a little guilty because I think she wanted to talk more, but I was feeling like it was time to get back to my space. Just as I sat down and pulled out my laptop, here came the other attendant, smiling in a way that you never see them smile these days. Bending over my seat, she leaned over and said with secret enthusiasm, “Ann told me all about your face lift, and I just wanted to tell you I think it looks fabulous, really fabulous.” Again, not really the right place to sit down for a chat, so I said thank you and she left, presumably to talk with Ann about face lifts.

I’m sure that this episode has a lot less to do with me looking fabulous (after all, since they didn’t know me before, how do they know it’s a fabulous facelift?) and more to do with some perceived bond of sisters who, wanting to be modest but also being vain, are drawn to examples of fellow sisters who have taken the plunge in cosmetic surgery. I don’t have any other examples of this sort of thing, but I found it pleasantly affirming if a little surprising.

The rest of the trip was uneventful and it was glorious to finally be home among the bills and lawn-needing-mowing and children and fireworks and all the mundane beauty that blesses me.

After coffee and packing, I set about planning my trip home today, settling on the wig for headgear since it’s not tight at all on my scar. I can’t wear eye makeup, but I can try to cover my bruises with foundation later in the day before I travel — so everything but foundation and blush got packed before my appointment. Picked a couple of outfits and packed everything else so that when I got back from my morning appointment, I wouldn’t have anything to do except rest for a bit, then go to the airport for my 4:00 flight.

I took a cab when I discovered that all my careful requests about the hotel shuttle had apparently been ignored, and met with Dr. Spiegel’s team of doctors and nurses to remove my staples and stitches and to talk about post-operative care. The staples aren’t bad, but some of the stitches were. The stitches under my nose weren’t bad at all. Prying off my nose cast was more difficult than usual, for it seems that many patients don’t follow instructions and get it wet. We had to go with adhesive dissolver to finally make progress.

Dr. Spiegel said that all looked well and recommended some gentle massage around my nose and chin over the next few weeks, but he seemed pleased with the scalp advance and the nose, especially. He had no comment on the lips or eyes, and confirmed that swelling in the jaw and chin proceeds on its own pace, quite differently from other parts of the operation. He asked his assistant to give me a couple of dissolving stitches in my head, two on either side, to assist me in traveling today, and requested that I wear an Ace bandage for my face instead of a fashionable scarf or wig.

Questions I had:
numbness on lower lip and chin — they’ll go away over a few weeks to a few months
those damned dissolving stitches in my mouth — another week
eye bloodiness — it’s inside the eye, could be a couple of weeks
followup care for scalp — next summer I might do my last hair transplant
resume electrolysis — immediately on non-scar areas and 3-4 weeks on scar areas
asymmetry — due to asymmetric swelling — massage and time will align everything

So the Boston trip is finished, not quite as bad as I had expected. Here I am before some non-eye makeup and off to the airport:

Not having a photo i.d. (Mary Jo kept it during surgery and forgot to give it to me), I left for the airport at 12:30 for my 4:00 flight carrying all my other I.D. cards and an envelope of $1 bills for tips, as I was not about to carry my stuff myself.

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