Here’s a picture of me at the end of the day. My eyes and forehead are better, but my lips are numb and my cheeks hurt and my jaw and chin are puffy. There’s only so much cable television that one can watch, you know? Mary Jo says I’m nuts about the “Ray Liotta” look and said any fool can see I look like Joaquin Phoenix, instead.

Saturday FFS

Woke up with all sorts of creative ideas, like why can’t our PDA’s monitor our heart and gut sounds and call our doctors (or us) if we aren’t right? Or what if transsexuals were like the DNA in Jurassic Park, and we represented some sort of evolution? At a much lower level, I heard my gut boiling, the first time since surgery, and the image of a galvanized rubber production plant came to mind. OK, the creativity may have had something to do with surgery and Percocet, but I started the day excited and ready to write.

I took a bath, washed my hair, cleaned all my wounds, got dressed, then promptly lost the will to do anything, and took a long nap.

Ok, the day of creativity didn’t happen, mostly because just about the time I get a burst of energy, my lips or jaw or chin start hurting, and I use vaseline, saline, hot water rags, Q-Tips, and whatever else I can find to help. Since I can neither blow my nose nor sneeze, I have to shoot saline up my nose to irrigate and then clean up with Q-tips. I am still having trouble drinking, so things go very slowly.

I did finally manage to get out for a few minutes this evening. I got my clothes on, bandaged up my face, took my key and wallet and went down the elevator to buy some cokes and more ice cream at the desk. It was kind of a strain, I’m embarrassed to report.

I also learned that Mary Jo took my driver’s license back to Bedford Falls with her, as she was carrying it for me on the day of surgery so I couldn’t lose anything. Flying home on Wednesday, it appears I’ll get to navigate the TSA maze of security as not only a tranny who has had surgery, but also as someone with no photo identification. Oddly enough, I think it’s going to be ok, as the TSA says it “prefers” these kinds of identification, but if you don’t have it, or have forgotten it, you can go through with an extra layer of scrutiny.

Suffice to say that today, I think I look a lot like the actor Ray Liotta, certainly more than George Bailey or Joyce Bailey. While the color in my eyes is fading really fast, the swelling in my chin and lips is continuing to grow, and is likely to peak today, according to Dr. Spiegel’s office.

The entire series of photographs will be posted later in the week, but since some of my photography is on one camera, some is on Mary Jo’s cell phone, and the rest is on my cell phone, it’s hard to get them all together.

Mary Jo and I had coffee this morning while she packed in order to get back to our kids and our spread in Bedford Falls.

I expected to feel good and fine with her departure, but I found myself feeling quite sad, not just feeling sorry for myself for being in pain (although I’m sure part of it comes from here) but also feeling that she’s going home to set the tone for the boys and to set up the second half of her life. I had these thoughts all night, and grew quite distressed by the 3:00 a.m. I was pretty surprised by how frightened I got, but I was also pleased that I didn’t freak out, and managed to cool off and get some sleep eventually.

What’s important to note (for me, at least) is that this FFS clearly taps into some deep fears and aspirations that I hold. I’m perplexed by how excited I can be that I’m finally jettisoning my GID and getting on with my life as Joyce while simultaneously being filled with fears that Mary Jo will leave me because of my permanent changes. Maybe both things are happening, either in reality or symbolically, and my mind is easily filled with new thoughts.

It’s probably also that I’m on Percocet for the pain and I’m stuck in a stupid hotel room in Boston, too bruised and feeling too bad to go out walking, watching the worst collection of cable channels of all time, and generally going stir crazy.

Another day of resting and pacing. I spent a good part of the day with Q-Tips, a very weak hydrogen peroxide solution, and a hand mirror, very slowly unsticking my eyes, de-crustifying my scars, and cleaning up dried blood.

A treat of the day was a visit from Violet, who brought her nail polish, a vase of flowers, and a pint of ice cream. I got a nice new clean coat of toenail polish from her, and she also re-did Mary Jo’s toes. Since Violet is on her way to a wedding, we returned the favor and put some really cool silver/mauve nail polish on her toes, after which we enjoyed the rest of our ice cream.

I felt quite good at the end of the day now that I could see, had fresh nail polish, and thought most of my swelling and bruising was gone. Little did I know that we would soon be entering a new stage.

Blind almost all day, and that’s really frustrating.

Felt better around noon, ate a hearty breakfast and lunch, made a walk around the floor once I got my eyes partially opened.

They had told us that 85% of FFS patients leave by the end of that day, and being competitive, we certainly didn’t want to fall outside of the norms. So we began planning on checking out before dinner, and checking out was easy, if getting a cab was not.

Mary Jo got me back to our hotel around 5:00, where I laid around and put ice on my face and slept fitfully, waiting for the next authorized time to take my Percocet (9:00 and 3:00, morning and night).

The night was fitful and ugly, employing wet rags, frequent adjustments, and some sleeping.

Since we had surgery moved from 6:00 to 9:00, Mary Jo and I had ample time to get ready without rushing around in the pre-dawn hours. I took a long shower, being aware of the possibility that it might be a while before I felt able to shower again. The shower, getting dressed, and getting ready to go felt to me very ceremonial. I remember thinking about how I was perfectly healthy and yet I was about to submit to a procedure that will enfeeble me for a couple of weeks. I also sat and talked with Mary Jo about how it feels as if my GID is gone and that I finally feel normal. It was like suiting up for battle with special dietary restrictions (Mary Jo ate with relish a pastry and coffee and I could have none), special clothes (no jewelry, makeup, etc.), and special mental preparation.

We took the shuttle over to Boston Medical Center around 8:45 and checked in. Not being allowed any makeup or jewelry or anything like that, I felt kind of neutral, but I got a very pleasant surprise when they put on my arm band — Dr. Spiegel had me registered as a 48-yr-old Female, so all morning I was getting calls for “Mrs. Bailey” and “honey” and “dear,” all based on that “F” on the papers. I think some people knew that I was neither fish nor fowl, but honestly, at this point, when you’re looking at surgery and serious things, gender presentation doesn’t matter that much, and it certainly didn’t bother me one way or the other as long as I felt I was getting good medical attention.

They called me in to the prep area at 10:00 sharp, and told Mary Jo she could go no further. I wasn’t ready to say good bye but we held a hug for a long, deep time, trying to convey to the other that we’re going to get through this and that we’ll all be OK, and then I was on my own.

Judy, a southern woman who had lived in Texas for a while, was my main nurse, assisted by 4th year medical student Ebony. They installed my IV and asked me the same questions that everyone else asked me all morning (presumably to avoid making a mistake). Dr. Spiegel came in and talked about what we were about to do, and when he asked me to remind him of my profession (teaching rhetoric, the reader will recall), he said, “that’s odd — you’ll be the third FFS for an American rhetorician I’ve done.” Employing all sorts of trickery, I couldn’t get him to violate his patient-doctor privilege, and thus remained in the dark about my colleagues who have had this procedure done.

Unlike the last time (and only time) I was under general anesthesia, I didn’t make it into the OR before I was out. We had been waiting for IV antibiotics, and Judy and Ebony said, let’s go ahead and get you asleep and we’ll get the antibiotic into your IV when it arrives. We started moving, and that was all I remember.

General anesthesia is funny because that very moment immediately dovetails into your first next moment, which, for me, was 7 or 8 hours later in the recovery room. I couldn’t see anything because my eyes were stuck or swollen shut, and that was frustrating — it also made recovery pretty strange, and I was happy to be finally wheeled up to my own room, where I apparently asked if Mary Jo knew I was out. The nurses said they had called her and that she was on her way to the hospital after her online class was over.

The night was just a haze, shuffling blind with nurse’s help to the bathroom, and adjusting the ice on my eyes.

Below is a series of small blog posts about facial feminization surgery (FFS) in Boston. You can skip them if you don’t like thinking about messing with faces or if you find diary-like entries annoying. I will try to return to less chatty, more reflective entries in the days after surgery.

Mary Jo and Joyce fly to Boston for FFS (6/21)

Flying to Boston was uneventful. I expected to be hounded by the Bedford Falls, small-town TSA officials for being a “traveling tranny,” or more precisely, someone whose photo ID didn’t match the way she looked. They studied my ID, the name printed on my ticket, and my face, then made some little initials on my ticket and passed me through, no body cavity search or deep interrogation necessary. I didn’t even have any special treatment in the metal detector, but Mary Jo was given an extremely thorough examination because she carried her cell phone through the metal detector in her pocket.

The only remotely interesting that happened was that in the waiting area, one fellow seemed to be staring at me, and looking away when I met his gaze. He was a college student, an athletic man in his early 20’s wearing a baseball cap and reading Sports Illustrated. “OK,” I said to myself, “so he reads you as tranny and doesn’t like it — big deal.” Turns out than when we’ve boarded, jock-boy works his way down the plane’s aisle and tells me he’s in the seat next to me. He squeezes in, looks out the window, and never looks back at me. Nothing bad happened, and for all I know, he didn’t give me a second thought. But I realized just how self conscious I still am, and remembered why I thought (and still think) FFS is a generally good idea — because not everyone I encounter will be college students and professors and because even if no one knows or cares about my transsexual nature, I’m the one who still feels self-conscious, and lowering my self-consciousness is going to be a very good thing over the long haul.

Switching planes in Dallas wasn’t hard, nor was the flight to Boston. We took the courtesy shuttle to our hotel and when we talked to the desk to check in, the man told me, “You two ladies are obviously going to want separate beds, but I’ve made a mistake and only have a king. What if you take that room for the same rate, and one of you can sleep on the pull out.” I guess I should have said something like “what are you talking about? We’re married.” But I didn’t even get his drift (i.e. women traveling together are clearly buddies and want separate beds) at the moment and thought the kingsized bed would be just fine, so we took it, getting the “Executive Suite,” two rooms, one of which has nothing but a conference table and a bar in it.

Violet Eggplant takes us around the city (6/22)

The next day, we met up with my Second Life friend, Violet Eggplant, and walked the length of Newberry Street, which has every posh shop and gallery you can imagine. We looked at Picasso lithographs (Mary Jo is particularly in love with one called Le Viol V — or The Rape 5), bought decadent Swiss chocolates, and got our senses blown away in a soap and bath-salts store called Lush, perhaps the most amazing establishment I have experienced in a long time. Laid out like a deli, this shop’s goods are displayed food-style so that your soaps look like rounds of cheeses, your facial masks are scooped out from salad bar containers, and bath salts are made to look like marble-breads. My olfactory system was in overdrive as we sampled and bought a range of goodies and were treated to some very nice hand salts, lotions, and creams by the proprietor. I didn’t see the bill, but I believe Mary Jo paid hundreds of dollars for our large bag of goodies, some of which we used in the bath and on our skin that very night, much to our delight.

After Newberry Street, we walked through the Park and into the North End of Boston, which contains the Old North Church (One if by land and two if by sea from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere“), old cemeteries, and perhaps hundreds of nice Italian restaurants. I had mushroom risotto, but no wine, as my pre-surgery rules forbid alcohol, aspirin, ibuprofen, and hormones, a prohibition that really pained me as this meal cried out for a big-bodied red wine. After dinner, we walked around a bit, bought pastries from Mike’s (which is enormously popular), and sat in a square talking and eating our newly purchased pastries. We parted ways and made vague plans to get together post surgery, which is frustrating for me — I’m having such a great time that it’s easy to forget that I’m not on vacation for more than a few hours more.

Boston Medical Center (6/23)

The next day, we took the hotel shuttle up to BMC, where we met my anesthesiologist, a very kind African man named Jean-Marie. He asked a very detailed set of questions about surgeries, medicine, and illnesses, and after an hour, he said he would see me the next day at 6:00 a.m. We next went to visit Dr. Spiegel (elsewhere in this blog known as Dr. East) and his capable and nurturing assistant, Kelly. We went over procedures, talked about the timeline, looked at a picture of my mother, had “before” photographs taken (with and without wig), debated whether this surgery forever prevents one from looking neutral or butch (he doesn’t believe it does), and learned that the surgery was pushed back to 9:00, so we get to sleep in a little bit.

Kelly said that 85-90% of their patients want to go home from the hospital by 4:00 the next day (still protesting that there’s no way to leave the hospital as late as 1:00 or 2:00), but there was no particular check-out time and that if I felt I had to stay, then it wouldn’t be a problem. But assuming I’m like those 85-90%, Mary Jo will pick me up and take me to the hotel on Wednesday afternoon, where the first day will be very cloudy, and the next two days will be fairly miserable, improving considerably by Friday, which is convenient, as that’s when Mary Jo returns to Bedford Falls to look after the kids and horses.

We got prescriptions for pain medication and antibiotics and good instructions on after-surgery care, and then left. Mary Jo can write about her impressions of Dr. Spiegel, but I myself was reminded of why I like him — he’s funny, intellectual, academic, and incredibly capable. Although I’m a bit nervous, he makes me feel quite confident that I won’t die on the operating table and I won’t look like a monster when I heal.

After we filled the prescriptions and bought a bunch of soft food, flexible straws, and ointments at the nearby Target, we had a small lunch and took an afternoon nap. We took a cab at 5:00 to meet our friends Nick and Barbara at a seafood joint called The Barking Crab, where Mary Jo ate just her second lobster in her life, pounding its shell with the rock provided for that purpose and reveling in the visceral experience, thankful that the restaurant provides bibs. Again, a nice alcoholic drink would have really completed my sesame-crusted tuna steak dinner, but I treated myself to flour-less chocolate cake to compensate. I figure that if I’m going to be sucking my food through a straw for a week and depriving myself of wines and scotches for two weeks prior to surgery, I deserve a rich and just dessert.

Reflections on the eve of surgery

I know why I think this surgery is a good thing for me, but I feel increasingly that I’m being selfish, vain, egotistical, and harmful to others. In other words, I feel good about my own psychology, my own identity, and my own self and its evolution that has taken me to this spot, and I also feel confident about the future that continues on this same general trajectory. However, I feel guilty for the anxiety, anger, confusion, resentment, or other negative emotions that are generated in others because of my changes. I wish my project did not require others to face issues of sex and gender and beliefs that they’d rather not face. Some of my family and friends are seeing my changes as positive and I’m overjoyed about those relationships, but I can also see the pain and sadness in Mary Jo’s face and in Slade’s email words and in Aunt DeeAnne’s averted gaze. I’m sorry for that pain and sadness, and hope it goes away, or at least fades just as surely as my GID fades away. Seen separately, the suite of procedures involved in FFS feel vain and perhaps unnecessary, but seen as part of this remarkable 2+ year journey, I think it’s a small but important segment of that trip — it’s the kind of journey where I don’t necessarily relish the twists and turns involved in getting there, but can’t wait to arrive at the destination.

After reworking the scope, direction, and authority of my topic, time inevitably passed (as it always does) and it was finally time to present my paper at the Perspectives on Gender and Technology conference in Austin, TX.

I had been worried that my level of discourse wouldn’t be up to par, as gender studies isn’t my area of expertise. But I have studied gender all of my life, as Mary Jo has pointed out to me numerous times. Even upon arriving in my hotel room on Thursday afternoon, I still felt my paper was too nebulous. Instead of walking around on a beautiful afternoon, I sat down and worked, finally finding a way to focus my thoughts in such a way that the presentation would be more aligned with my own field while opening the door to work in gender and technology.

Maybe it was just fear, but I rationalized it as being about focus.

Instead of foregrounding my observations–about Second Life, FFS simulations in Photoshop, and transsexual discussion boards–on the topic of building a new identity, I decided to focus on the way emerging transsexuals use these technologies as (self) persuasive tools to help them decide what to do when the GID is so overwhelming that doing nothing is no longer sustainable.

I struck upon this strategy in the evening, late in the evening, and spent much of the night tweaking my Powerpoint presentations and creating new graphics to illustrate argumentative concepts to the audience. I got some sleep, I suppose.

This day and the day of my presentation was also the period where all the furious emails from my sister and uncle were flying around, so I think it’s safe to describe that overnight stay in the Omni Hotel as emotional.

I drove to campus and stopped at the guard booth over by the Dobie Mall on the south side of campus. I asked the guard if there was parking near the computer science building, and then her face lit up and she nodded wildly, apparently on the phone with someone at that very moment to figure out that very question. She waved in broad gestures to someone standing 100 feet away, a woman who looked like she might be going to the same conference. She had received bad information and believed the conference was up in Parlin Hall, home of the English Department. Knowing that was false, I told her to follow me down the hill to Waller Creek, where we turned left, weaved our way around the construction, and finally found the much-nearer parking garage. We walked and talked our way up to the conference, leaning on each other (metaphorically) just in case we had made a mistake. But no, there was the computer science building with the high tech auditorium, right where I expected it.

The people at the conference were terrific, the keynote speakers knowledgeable, and my fellow speakers intriguing and professional. My paper went just fine, even if time seemed to fly by. The audience was interested and asked good questions. Before coming to Austin, I had been concerned that the official respondent for our panel, Sandy Stone, noted communication and transsexual theorist, would find all sorts of holes in my argument, methodology, and general worth as a human being. However, once I had my focus on argumentation and technology, and once she had lightheartedly told the audience that she supposed she had to moderate the session by virtue of being the “designated transsexual” on the University of Texas campus, it was clear that my fears were ungrounded. Being the first paper she introduced, I picked up the theme and came out to a room of perhaps 30 academics, saying “Well, then I’m happy to tell you that I’m on the verge of holding the same position, the designated transsexual, at Texas Tech,” and went straight into my paper from that point.

The second paper was delivered by a graduate student in the Philosophy Department of the University of South Florida, and it covered issues of intersexed people and strongly resisted a rigid sex and gender binary. The third paper was a fascinating discussion of post-war Japanese reproductive religion and state. And the fourth paper was an anthropological look at identity and gender. All four of us would have benefited from a longer session because it was clear that we could talk with each other for hours and the audience had many questions and observations. Maybe that’s the best way to leave things.