Let me weave a metaphor I’ve been working with for a couple of months and see if the pattern makes sense. I have been working with “identity,” “psyche,” “persona,” “personality,” and other terms more or less interchangeably, and while this approach is probably deeply flawed, it’s a start. I will try to disentangle the meanings later. But for now, let’s just assume they’re all complex tapestries made up of many strands. Separately, these strands make a big tangled ball of yarn on the floor, but woven together through time, education, upbringing, and experience, they form a meaningful and hopefully coherent pattern: one’s identity.

This tapestry is made up of hundreds of different threads in the warp and the woof, and they are not just intertwined, but twisted in intricate patterns to make unique people. These threads are separate experiences or influences: education, sex, gender, class, race, economics, environment, nutrition, occupation, religion, family, sickness, travel abroad, politics, extended family, and so on. But there are also much more detailed threads in the tapestry: the time I was sick in Paris, the desperation of gender identity disorder in 1993, the bicycle picnic with Debra in 1990, the great golf shot in 1989, and so on.

Most of the time, when I picture a sex change, I picture someone getting a firm grip on one or two threads, the sex thread and maybe the gender thread, and pulling them out of the tapestry, or at least pulling them partly out into a new position within the tapestry. But the threads are woven very tightly through time, reinforced through dogma and synaptic repetition, and you can’t just pull one thread without all the others that touch it becoming displaced. Joined sometimes with a force like electromagnetism, these intersections don’t want to break, but they distort, pulling threads that are unrelated out of shape when all we really wanted to do was pull the sex thread.

(But, I ask you, how can an integral part of an identity truly be isolated?)

In the course of undertaking a transsexual transition, I would really like to think that I’m remaining the same old George as before, just improved by virtue of realigning a few dysfunctional threads. But maybe I can’t have that — maybe all those variables have to change a little bit to accommodate a change in biochemistry, socialization, and interpersonal relationships. I take hormones, I feminize my body, I tell everyone you want to be seen as a woman, I go to therapy to come to an acceptance and even a love of these changes — so then how can I expect that nothing change?

The odd thing is I don’t feel a whole lot different than before. The tapestry is still together, more or less, even if the pattern that was George has been distorted as it begins to take the shape of Joyce. I think we all have to be mindful of the thread dynamics in these patterns — let’s observe their movements, mark the distortion, pull a little on this one to smooth out the pattern, cut this little frayed end to even out the edge, rub a little wax on this knot to help it slip and relieve some of the distortion pressure, and joyfully (if not a little mysteriously) watch the new tapestry pattern emerge.

And when I say “we,” that’s just what I mean, dear reader. The old tapestry was woven in the social context of the first half of my life, and there’s no reason to think this reweaving/readjusting process takes place outside of many current and future influences: hormonal and familial, to be sure, but also social and occupational.

I’m excited — I think I’m going to make it . . . as long as we don’t accidentally pull too hard and end up looking at a pile of tangled yarn when it’s all over :).