My Next Surgery is Just Around the Corner, and a Bit More South(ish)

I’m preparing for my next major surgery. The date is May 19th. A mere 4 weeks away, and I can feel the nerves rising again. Meditation is helping. Also, knowing I made it through the facial surgery with minimal problems gives some comfort. My body seems to be OK with this stuff.

My facial feminization surgery on February 3rd appears to be a success. The healing is proceeding according to plan. I’m still uncomfortable (understatement), but things get a tiny bit better every day. I’m concentrating on eating healthy, exercising, and embracing patience. I’m pretty good at 2 out of 3. Wanna guess which one I suck at?

Discussing the next surgery is more complicated. It’s important to share the journey in case it can advance the conversation, answering some questions that are uncomfortable to ask. However, I also want to avoid putting too much focus on surgeries. I happen to be a trans person who not only wants these costly procedures, but who has the privilege and opportunity to access them. There are many ways to be transgender. I want to make sure I’m not adding to the impression that the paths I’m choosing represent the only correct ways. Please do not equate trans identity with genitalia. It’s not that simple. Also, these surgeries are covered nearly 100% by our Kaiser HMO plan. Without this coverage, it’s doubtful I would ever have the opportunity to do it at all.

I’m going to talk in generalities. If you want more detail, there’s plenty of info available out there. If only I had access to information when I was young. Would have saved me a ton of unhappiness.

“Someday I’ll get my operation”

Fall of 1982 I visited my sister Victoria at Western Michigan University, staying the weekend in her dorm room. The planned events included a Circle Jerks show and a few mood-altering substances. By the end of the concert I was obliterated by a combination of beer, pot and LSD. At some point I blacked out. I’m not sure how long I wandered around, but eventually the fog lifted and I came out of it. I was alone, sitting on the cement step in one of the dorm’s stairwells. I heard myself state out loud “Someday I’ll get my operation.” The echoing proclamation was startling. I knew about transsexual people and I knew about my own denied femininity. But at 18 years old I had not yet made the definitive and conscious connection between myself and that destiny. Not that I would admit. In hindsight I always knew, but I was a master of compartmentalization. A common trait among many LGBT people.

Saying it out loud broke my ability to deny it. I spent the next 24 years attempting to put that genie back in the bottle, but she wouldn’t go, the tenacious bitch.

A lifetime of self-loathing

Flash forward to now, skipping a lifetime of self-loathing and substance abuse. It’s not fun to remember how lost I was for most of my life. Only looking back on it from a happier perch can I admit what a difficult person I have been. Hatred of oneself heaps bullshit on everyone, not just the dummies who foist it upon themselves. If anyone reading this feels I mistreated them, I offer an apology. I was sometimes a total asshole.

Back in 1982, I guess I assumed one entered a hospital, had a “sex change”, and then everything changed. I didn’t yet understand the intricacies of talk therapy, hormones, electrolysis, and the billions of other details required to assist a gender transition. Maybe I can’t be blamed for my skewed ideas since they were mostly based on weird (and very rare) instances of gender transition in 1970s TV and movies. One of the first such stories I saw was an episode of Medical Center. Robert Reed (the dad on The Brady Bunch) played a doctor who is admitted to the hospital for “the operation”. He literally spent most of the episode dressed as a man and only appeared as a woman briefly at the end, after the procedure. She also seemed to have recovered very quickly, leaving almost immediately in a taxi. She was sad and alone, moving to a foreign country to live out the rest of her shameful life. It was all very dramatic, and depressing … and medically incorrect!!

Roberta

The first positive portrayal of a trans person I encountered was July of 1982 when I read the John Irving novel The World According to Garp. The movie was coming out that week so I read the book in advance of seeing it. The character of Roberta Muldoon was a regular (albeit lonely) person. She was loved and admired by the other main characters, and although she had a thread of sadness that maybe plays a little victim-y today, it was the first time I felt maybe … maybe … a transsexual person could have a life that wasn’t full of torment. A couple months later I visited my sister and those drugs at Western Michigan University and woke in a stairwell, Scarlett O’Hara-ing about “my operation”.

And I was correct. Go figure.

The surgery I referred to in that stupor was the magical one which changes male genitalia into female genitalia. Today, I know there’s not nearly as much difference between those structures as most people think. The reconstructive surgery is really just a reconfiguration. It’s not simple, but it’s not as outlandish as my teenage brain imagined it.

Surgery for better health and marriage

Since I assumed I would never have the opportunity (money) to get full reconstructive surgery, I began considering a less drastic (and therefore less expensive) procedure that would allow me to settle into a better legal and physical state. In 2011 I had a bilateral orchiectomy. The surgery would allow me to dramatically lower the dosage of estrogen I needed to maintain secondary female physical characteristics. I’ll have to take estrogen for the rest of my life, but the large dosage required prior to the orchiectomy put me at higher risk for health issues. Also, once complete, the surgeon would sign an affidavit so I could petition my home state of Michigan for a new birth certificate in my new gender. This, in addition to another legal document ordering recognition of my female gender by the state of California, would allow me to live legally as female. I would change all my paperwork, and marry Mark as a heterosexual woman. This was prior to marriage equality, so it was the only way we could marry.

To share or not to share

One of the dangers of writing about this is being reduced to body parts. There’s so much more to being trans than facial structures and genitalia. In talking about it publicly, it’s hard to determine the line between necessary privacy, and being open so cisgender people understand the issues.

I’ve decided to write about it but I’m still on the fence about whether I’m doing more harm than good. I’m not connected to a wider trans activist community and perhaps this could be seen by some as doing damage of some kind. I’m trying to perform my own version of activism. Or I’m fooling myself. Hard to tell sometimes.

These surgeries are simply the cherry on the sundae of my transition. Most of the work of transition has been in my mind and the adjustments made by the world around me.

Until the last few years, making this journey seemed incomprehensible. Most of my life I stood before the edge of a massive abyss, devastated by the idea of staying where I was, but also facing an impossible set of obstacles to get to the other side safely. I don’t exactly know what I thought I meant in that stairwell in 1982, but May 19th is the completion of some arc, a promise I made to myself. There’s poetry in that.

Countdown to Facial Feminization Surgery

These days my life is all about getting ducks in rows as I countdown to my facial feminization surgery on Friday (February 3rd). As much as possible I’ve been staying away from public spaces in an attempt to remain healthy while also preparing for my mom’s arrival tomorrow. The photo above is the rented hospital bed in our living room, my recovery space for the coming month. I’m meditating every day to quell the substantial anxiety I feel when I think about the moment I’ll fall into a nowhere land of anesthesia. I’m getting exercise and wondering how it will feel to be bed-bound for a long period of time while also eating only soft foods. How will this throw off my Weight Watchers journey? Will I be able to get back on that horse when I’ve healed?

I have the instinct to contact people to say “Thank you for being part of my life,” as if it’s wise to say in case something bad happens to me. Everyone assures me I’ll be fine, but that tiny risk is always lingering, begging me to give it more weight than it probably deserves.

When my mom arrives we’ll start a whirlwind of practice runs and tutorials. Among many things, I need to show her the quirks of our washer/dryer and how to load and play podcasts on my phone in case my eyes are swollen completely shut for the first few days. For someone like me, who plans everything down to the finest detail, the mystery of how this will go is enough to drive me mad. Hence the meditation, exercise, and breathing. Always the breathing. We have a full docket of things to cover this week, and then it will be dark-O-clock on Friday morning and we’ll pile into the chilly car to drive 70 miles to the hospital in Richmond.

Half of me is prepared and excited. The other half is still holding back. A million What Ifs flood my head and I still hold onto a feeling of “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Once I’m out of surgery my mom or Mark will post on my Facebook page.

Keep good thoughts for me!

SAG screener 2017 #2 – HIDDEN FIGURES

Last night we watched HIDDEN FIGURES. I liked it a lot. I didn’t love it, but I think highly of it.

It’s a little cloying. A bit cliché. There’s nothing wrong with clichéd elements, but they could have skipped a little quicker over some of that intro. Having said that, it’s an important story, and we were happy to give it two hours of our time.

Inspiring, obviously. Ultimately uplifting, obviously. No surprises, but pleasant and recommended for historical value.

It’s crazy to think about how recent this level of bigotry was an accepted given in this country. Mark commented, “This was two years before we were born.” It’s always stunning to be reminded of the inhumanity of the world we were born into.

The film is beautifully shot. Mark was distracted by the mismatch of the music, an odd choice of using a mix of authentic period music with new Pharrell Williams songs. The disconnect was especially vivid when the characters are specifically shown listening to contemporary music on the radio.

Emotional wallops and suspense

As one would expect, the period details are attractive and presumably authentic. The mixture of news footage and computer generated recreation melds well together.

It takes a while to get to the emotional wallops and suspense, but they come … and are satisfying.

I’m surprised Taraji P. Henson is not nominated. I might have voted for her. I liked Octavia Spencer’s performance, but I’m not sure it rises to the level I would expect for a best actress nod.

SAG screener 2017 #1 – FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS

It’s that time of year again. This seasons’s SAG screeners are now on our TO DO list. January is already shaping up to be intense, marching directly toward my February 3rd surgery date. Mark and I have 11 films in total to watch before the end of January. Actually, it’s now 9. We saw ARRIVAL on the big screen when it opened, and we love love loved it. So layered and emotional. We might watch it again at home, but I don’t think I’ll write about it here. Last night, we watched FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (watch the trailer). We only had about 2 hours before I knew I would lose steam and need to take my weary self to bed. Most of the dramas are over 2 hours, so we chose this one since it fit into our available window of time.

So how was it?

Truth be told, it’s a frothy bit of nothing, although that is not a negative. It is what I expected and wanted at that moment. Also, is there ever a truly bad time watching Streep? (Hint: Not for me)

If you’re like my husband and are troubled by cringe-worthy scenes, there are definitely uncomfortable moments. Mark had to walk out of the room at least once. But it was a gentle cringe, quickly finished.

Certainly, it’s an interesting true life story about an odd and sad woman in a very specific social position at a very specific time. Aside from the spectacle of the performances, I’m not sure why a film like this needs to exist. Maybe there’s an important lesson about living life out loud. But it is lovely to look at, and goes down easily. It also doesn’t wear out its welcome.

And a spectacle it is, with Streep screeching through her singing scenes born from (I assume) the same level devotional study as any complex accent she’s presented. She is, of course, wonderful. Hugh Grant is also great, deserving of the nom alongside Streep. I’m disappointed Simon Helberg didn’t get some award recognition. He sparkles, vibrating with disbelief as he tries to figure out why everyone is pretending Florence is praise-worthy. But there’s also a sensitive arc which he handles nicely.

The film is hilarious, touching, and sad, with a production design that is lushly vintage and somehow contemporary at once.

I likely won’t be haunted by it in any way, but I enjoyed it.

My Face Will be Upgraded: Facial Feminization Surgery

Looks like I will be getting an upgraded face. If we believe the surgeon, I’ll still (generally) look like myself. But better maybe?

I’ve known about the existence of Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS) for about a decade. Once it entered my consciousness I have secretly dreamed of it for myself. But the tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket cost put it outside my realm of possibility. The idea of trying to save for something like that was impossibly Herculean and depressing. I tried to put it out of my mind and make the best of what I have to work with.

The financial obstacle was removed this year by our HMO, Kaiser Permanente.

For years, my husband and I avoided joining the HMO. We heard nothing but horror stories about the care at Kaiser. Even though I wasn’t getting trans-proficient care through my PPO during 2013-2015, I liked my doctor and we were working through it together. I had no idea what I might be up against trying to find a new doctor in a new healthcare system. So, we paid extra for access to our own doctors. That choice was no longer tenable at the end of 2015. On January 1, we joined Kaiser and hoped for the best. I assumed I would have to travel the 40 miles to San Francisco to find a doctor familiar with trans care. I thought there was no way I could expect anything better at Kaiser in our immediate area than the care I was already receiving.

What I didn’t know, and have spent all of 2016 exploring, is that Kaiser Permanente is wayyyyyyyy ahead of the curve in transgender care. In fact, I now have a primary care doctor I consider the best I’ve ever had. Kaiser is still finding their way, so not everything has been perfect. But they are committed to trans people in a way I never expected.

Mid-year, I was informed Kaiser was moving forward with Facial Feminization Surgery as a covered benefit (under our plan anyway). I consulted with their surgeon and waited for a date. I’m on the calendar for February 3, 2017. Unless something catastrophic happens, that’s the day. My mom is coming to help with my care, especially during the first week when I expect to be the neediest.

The goal of Facial Feminization Surgery is to tweak and alter the bone and muscle in the head/face of a person assigned male at birth to feminize that person’s appearance, altering typically male facial features to bring them closer in shape and size to typical female facial features. More information from Wikipedia

( I should probably say something here about feminism and self-imposed standards of beauty. Eye of the beholder. Skin deep. I’ll let you fill in those blanks. )

A tiny part of me feels like I owe the world an explanation/apology for my decision to have this surgery. I realize I don’t, but that feeling persists. I want to feel as settled in myself as possible. I want to be as safe as possible. I hesitate to expound upon the hardships of moving through the world while transgender. It would be vulgar for me to pity myself too much from my position of relative comfort and safety. Despite having lost male privilege, I still have lots of other societal privilege that insulates and protects me. My most malevolent demon has always been my own anxiety. The purpose of the facial surgery is to perhaps give me a chance to feel more in line with my preferred presentation and therefore reduce or eliminate that anxiety. Studies show this to be effective treatment.

When I mention facial surgery, some friends say stuff like “You look great. You shouldn’t feel badly about yourself.”

I do not feel badly about myself. I provide lots of self-care. Facial surgery isn’t about that.

I want this … Kaiser is offering it … so I’m going to do it.

Hopefully there will be before and after photos in the future I will be eager to share.

I Accidentally Co-Wrote a Musical Comedy About Britney Spears, and Then It Made Me Cry

I contributed a post to the new Stage Rights blog!

CLICK HERE TO READ

It’s My 20-year Quitting-Smoking Anniversary

Stack of journals

As part of my current writing project, I’ve been combing through a series of journals I kept for nearly a decade (from the late 80s to the mid 90s). The very last page of the last journal contains a few simple sentences meant to catch the diary up after a long absence. One of the passages:

I finally quit smoking on September 9th, 1995. I’ve gained a lot of weight but I don’t care. I quit for mom, but mainly so I can do hormones again if I get to that point.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of getting away from that habit. I smoked for 16-ish years and I truly thought I would never escape it. My mother always wanted me to quit, so I was happy to be able to do it for her. But as you can see, I was always acknowledging the rising tide of my trans feelings. The first time I tried to transition (in 1991) my endocrinologist expressed how risky it was to smoke while also pursuing the necessary hormone therapy. So I knew if I was ever going to attempt transition again I would need to tackle this thing once and for all.

I’ve broken a lot of bad habits in my life. This was one of the hardest.

As soon as I quit smoking I started to take my life more seriously. I found a singing teacher, which led to my performing career, and I was well beyond the addiction once I finally faced my gender once and for all.

Happy Anniversary to me!

I only hope 20 years has been enough time to heal any damage I might have done back when I didn’t care about my life.

Tiresome casual racism…

Dear bitter middle-aged white woman who works at my local Sprouts with whom I was only making small talk to be polite –

Just because my skin color is approximately the same as yours doesn’t mean I want to hear your ignorant, bigoted comments such as “There are all Chinese and Indians now. They are taking over!”

When I abruptly change the subject, I am trying to spare you the embarrassment of exposing how idiotic you sound. It’s not a good idea to bring the subject right back to that same set of dumb statements 2 more times.

When, instead of walking away, I decide to stand firm and engage about it, you should have an answer. I assume since you spend so much time thinking about this, you must have a solid reason for your opinion. When I ask “Why does it bother you?”, it’s a good idea to have your thoughts immediately available instead of stammering. Obviously I surprised you by attempting to break it down, and your answer was as tiresome as your prejudice.

I don’t want to be part of your club when it necessitates listening to you ramble about “being taken over”…and overusing the terms “them” and “they”.

How do I unsubscribe from your verbal newsletter?

Thanks for listening, and next time you see me, please keep your racism to yourself. It’s depressing as hell.

“Sunday Afternoon in Line at Safeway” – A Dramatic Play in One Scene

Daya and Mark stand in line at a grocery store, sandwiched between a man in front of them debating a coupon with the cashier and an older woman behind them. The woman is late middle age, short, stout, possibly Greek. She is looking at the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Daya’s and Mark’s items are already placed on the belt and they quietly await their turn.

Woman: (Pointing to Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of the magazine.) Instead of doing THAT, this guy should have had his HEAD fixed instead!

She has successfully grabbed the attention of Daya and Mark.

Daya: (Heart pounding, trying to control the rising anger.) That’s not very nice!

Woman: (To Mark.) I want to get a man’s opinion. What do you think about him?

Daya: (Interrupting Mark.) HER.

Woman: Well, I just think he’s doing that for publicity.

Daya: HER. That’s not very nice. She’s just trying to find herself.

Woman: I don’t trust those Kardashians.

Daya: Neither do I but that has nothing to do with Caitlyn.

Woman: He just wants publicity.

Daya: Why did I do it then?

Woman: (Without missing a beat.) Because you wanted to be yourself.

Daya: And that’s exactly why Catilyn is doing it.

Woman: Those Kardashians…

Daya: They have nothing to do with this. You have to separate them from this. It’s hard to be transgender.

Woman: Believe me, I know. My brother had a terrible time. He was the same, and he lived a terrible life. The world was terrible to him. They called him crazy. He was a recluse.

The woman is now tearing up, which makes Daya tear up. Daya doesn’t quite understand what the woman is explaining about her brother and doesn’t want to delve too deeply. But now Daya wants to make sure this woman isn’t too upset, sympathy breaking through the anger. Mark has turned his attention to the coupon drama at the register. The man has also teared up about his own problem and is using Mark as a sounding board.

Daya: I totally relate. (Pointing to Mark’s back.) If he didn’t exist in my life, I would likely be a total recluse as well.

Woman: He’s a good man.

Daya: Yes, he is.

Woman: I just don’t know.

Daya: (Lightly touching the woman’s arm.) Caitlyn says she wants to help trans people. I’m waiting to see what she does with her celebrity. I’ll be willing to criticize her if she fails to do anything but be a celebrity. But we have to wait to see what she does with that power. She says she wants to help.

Woman: You’re right.

Daya: We have to lead with love.

Woman: (Her eyes are now red and look ready to spill over.) I understand, honey.

Daya: You’re going to make me cry! I don’t want to cry off all my makeup in line at Safeway!

Woman: OK, I’m going to hug you.

The woman opens her arms and Daya welcomes the hug. It’s a surprisingly firm and personal hug between total strangers.

Woman: I understand, Honey.

Daya: Thank you.

As Daya’s and Mark’s items are rung, the awkwardness mostly dissipates. There is welcome laughter and light-heartedness. As they roll their cart away, Daya blows a kiss to the woman.

Woman: Thank you, honey.

SAG screener #10: WHIPLASH

For some reason I had a built-in aversion to this film even though I had no real idea what it was about. When we found out we had to watch it as a screener we were both eager to put the viewing off as long as possible. Neither of us care much for cruelty…or jazz for that matter!

Boy was I wrong.

Right away the colorful cinematography let me know we were in the grip of something more cerebral than I anticipated. The palette was primary, fundamental. You could taste the hues.

We’re both fans of J. K. Simmons, and if you’ve seen him in HBO’s OZ you will recognize the energy. He’s perfection with this kind of angry intensity. And the cruelty of the character did force us more than once to cover our cringing faces.

But the piece carried us, and before I knew it we were about halfway through, past that point where you think “OK, we’ve seen everything from the trailer. Now what the hell is going to happen?!?!”

Like with BIRDMAN and NIGHTCRAWLER, we reached a point where we simply couldn’t predict where the plot would go, or even what kind of movie this would be in the end. This is a fun place to be. The rest of the film was a suspenseful ride that was unpredictable to the very last frames.

Mark commented that the film took a form of music he doesn’t usually care for, and made it thrilling and compelling…and I agree. This was a unique way to present a story, and uniqueness is so hard to come by in film these days.

I have a feeling this will stay with me for a long time. Bravo!

sonyclassics.com/whiplash