This blog contains 1000 posts. Posting to Blogger with such a large archive has become unwieldy. Also, your blogista, who is sewing a kesa, is not writing much at present. She has ceased adding new posts. Still-active links are here.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Worse and worse

Right after I wrote the last bit, the old body seemed to fall apart through the night, throat swelling, vomiting, hallucinations, throat closing, temperature rising three tenths of a degree for every passing half hour, even under full medication.

At three in the morning, Beloved called the on-call doctor yet again, and we were ordered into our third trip to Emergency. Driving a pain-crazed animal to the vet through the night can be harrowing experience even if you have a good cat cage, but I'm the size of a small leopard and was in the seat right next to her.

The woman has good concentration.

This time they held me for an eye, ear, nose, throat specialist. He appeared about sunrise, a little unhappy about something (perhaps he, like we, had hoped for some sleep), poked around in the massive callosity hanging around my jaws, called for a cat scan, and admitted me to the sprawling beast we call Sacred Heart.

I was now in the hands of people whose training it is to be bright, cheery and respectful, and whose education is to distrust your identity, your reasoning powers, and your intentions. Everyone checks your wrist label before and after every blood test, of which there are about six a day, and if you have a girl name and and an [M] after the name, they will check it three more times, ask you your birth date, to spell your last name, stand on you head, bark three times like a seal, and change water into wine before they will stick you. But, on the most part, they say "Ma'am," show genuine concern, and pat you on the shoulder before they go. There really aren't that many furrowed eyebrows.

The only troublesome people are the priests -- I mean, doctors. They want to know all your meds, are willing to try to trip you up to see if you have any hidden ones about, and they get bent out of shape over the estrogen and anti-androgen bits. It's, in their religion, part of a self-mutilation ritual, and you have be wide -awake in your responses around them. They keep muttering about the potential for liver damage, as if I didn't know about that already, and I can get only a fourth of the spiro I need in here. Already this morning I had an involuntary erection on awakening, probably the first in four months or more, and I'm losing my face and breasts, even with the patch on.

"Are you able to swallow?"

"No, sir."

"Can you swallow your spit?"

"No, sir."

Things that help. Show an interest in everyone, even brusque high priests and priestesses, and what they need from you and how you can help them help you. Be cleanly. Cooperate in everything. Make requests with "please," receive everything with "thank you," and if they look like they have the time, show an interest in their lives and happiness, especially the housekeepers. Make yourself a promise, which you will keep, to write thank you notes. Remember: things go potty in all lives. You can rebuild yourself after you get out of here. Just get out healthy.

The CAT scan was informative but not conclusive, and the doctor decided to wait a day before committing to a course of action. A steady stream of calls and visitors poured in. This eventually proved tiring, but it's kind of important to a patient, I think, to know who your bodyguards are.

As the list grew, I became humbled by the apparently inexhaustible supply of love and support there is in the world. This was in sad contrast to the traces of national-level and international corporate level behaviors I could find in all the sad things I was reading, between visitors, in my latest copy of the National Geographic, a special on Africa.

Nausea and vomiting were not supposed to be part of the picture, but I lost my gall bladder in a spectacular episode in the early nineties which could have been fatal (can you say pancreatitis), and I have been unable, really, to stomach Vicodin and the like ever since.

When my body thinks its doing that kind of a dive, the stomach sends back everything, and the doctors have fits about it and accuse me of having a dead liver. I think it was just wounded in the original battle and doesn't want to have to be on the front lines when the going gets tough. Can't blame it.

The other thing nobody wanted to really hear about was the hallucinations. Whenever I closed my eyes, while my neck was huge and tight like that, I entered a streaming non-stop (and very tiring) 3-D universe of dark reds and purples, impossibly landscaped and infinitely detailed, rich in swirling motion of armies of misshapen figures endlessly giving birth to one another and to empires of mud-like expanses subject to, mostly, ennui.

It was an extremely unpleasant place to be, but the startling part was that, while I could always dissipate it by opening my eyes, each time it seemed to take me another second longer to decide that this room, and not that other place, was the real world. I had never known anything like this and it was rapidly becoming the most unnerving part of the overall experience.

:::

On the second day, the doctor called for another scan. Another one, the "liver worrier," ordered an ultrasound. After much prodding and zapping I was sent to the OR at 6 p.m. and prepped. This was the most impersonal environment I'd encountered. I was shuffled from bed to bed with a body board, tied down, masked, and treated to a steady stream of "he" and "him" from all parties. Finally the doctor arrived around seven, and I was given about three breaths in which to figure that out.

It's a trip to awaken sitting up, feeling that you have been decapitated and reassembled, with some kind of armor wrapped around you beneath your chin. I felt that I would surely drown if whatever was hanging on my epiglottis fell into the tiny twisted slot through which I was breathing. They gave me an aspirator and I chased glop around with it every fifteen minutes from two until six a.m. Punched the pain button on the same schedule. The vital signs machine ran on automatic, and I could follow progress as it awakened me on the quarter hour to fight off drowning.

165/98. 154/94. 148/100. 137/93. 133/90. 127/87. 129/85. 125/74.

Looked to me like a good progression. Besides, those horrible nightmares had gone away -- totally -- during the operation. I settled back and went to sleep.

:::

I awoke around nine, drenched in sweat but feeling energized and cheerful. I reached for my ditty bag, arose, unplugged my Christmas tree, hung the power cord over its arm, arranged my IV tubes and oxygen tube over my arm, and we all trundled off to the little bathroom.

Omigod. The original wreck of the Hesperus. Washrag everywhere, with the pink soap. Cry over little tits. Shave every limb, belly, chest hair, aureole hair (carefully! and count nipples afterward), under arms, change Venus head, shave all the face and neck not under the mask. Pull out the oxygen long enough to do upper lip. Clean and dry razor. Lip lotion. Eye cream. Skin toner. Concealer. Foundation. Eyelids, liner, lip liner, lipstick, blush. No powder to set. Can't have it all, girl. But wait on the mascara...

Doctor arrives and pokes about, setting off tears. He's happy.

"You had a big pocket of ill-defined pus in there; I don't like to chase those but you didn't seem to have more time. But I landed right on it. We got four cc's out and I sent it to be cultured. Could take awhile to hear back. We threw amoxicillin at it for four days and it's bound to be a little woozy."

Strep?

"Nah, staph I'm thinking. We'll see. Anyway you look a lot better than you did yesterday."

He met Beloved in the hall and gave a her a cheery update. She and Daughter came in. After tears and hugs, I dried my eyes and did the mascara, then Daughter unpacked her kit and started on my nails.

"I love you, Mama Risa."

"Love you, kid."

"Love you, love you, love you."

"Not gonna die on you, y'know."

"You wouldn't dare. Now hold still and don't curl up those fingers."

-- risa b

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Steadily downhill

When I wrote last, only a couple of days ago, I didn't realize how sick I was.

I went to the conference vaguely aware that I had a toothache, something I'm not used to. I figured to get by on Ibuprofen and some penicillin pills until I could see the dentist on Monday. But I went steadily downhill during the retreat (statewide PFLAG, which was wonderful) and lay around during breaks and sometimes sessions on the couch in the corner, deep breathing, while other very well-meaning attenders regaled me with toothache recipes and horror stories.

I'm not sure how I managed to get my passenger and myself home. She's a great traveler and roommate, which helped, as did the light traffic. Everything after that is lost in a bit of a mist. I don't even remember writing the last post, though it seems coherent enough on a second reading.

Beloved skipped two important trainings and brought me in to the dentist's office. He was on vacation but could arrange to see me that afternoon. They took an x-ray and asked about allergies. I gave them my standard mantra: "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else."

The hygienist was worried about the lack of anything on the x-ray and said, "I can't find an abscess. You sure it's that tooth?"

By this time I was weeping with the pain. They were all (including the office people) distressed by the shape I was getting into, and the other dentist was brought up front to give emergency prescriptions. Beloved drove to the pharmacy and I lolled about, moaning, in the car while the prescriptions were processed.

She opened the driver door and got in with a little white sack. "What have we got?" [Rustle rustle.] "Hmm, penicillin and something I can't pronounce." "It's Vicodin." "No." Read the fine print." What is it with Doctors and dentists that everything has to be Vicodin and Hydrocodo nowadays?

She got me home, medicated me as best she could, but had to go to work, and visit our autistic son, and get a few groceries.

Right after she left, I threw up spectacularly. I almost drowned on the previous day's spaghetti noodles, a lot of which also showed up when I blew my nose.

Then began a period of screaming. I now had mouth scores, about twelve of them, scattered across the inside of my mouth, soreness in the right Eustachian tube, behind the right eardrum (where I could hear gurgling) and a rapidly swelling lymph system in the right side of my neck. Also my throat was closing.

I took and aspirin. Threw it up. Took a penicillin. threw it up. Hmm. That's not codeine-family. My system is shutting down. The last time that happened was the week my gall bladder died. This turned into pancreatitis briefly, and we almost lost me then. I paged Beloved.

She called back. "Was that you? Sounded like a prank caller."

"Mrrfl."

"Right, I'm coming straight home."

I was bundled up and taken directly to the hospital emergency room. Beloved laft to park the car. The intake doctor asked a few questions, but didn't seem impressed.

I added, "In the interests of full disclosure and accurate treatment I am a pre-op transwoman."

The typist's fingers hesitated over the keyboard.

I added, "My legal name is Risa Stephanie Bear and I am legally married to the person who brought me in."

She started typing again, worry lines at the corners of her mouth.

They asked about allergies. I gave them my mantra: "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else."

I was given a plastic bracelet. On it I saw,

Bear, Risa S.

[M].

This hospital's organization is known to be somewhat anti-trans, anti-choice, and even anti-birth-control, but I have little choice in the matter. The one across town is better for me in almost all respects, but if I go there it more than triples my costs -- as a result of an under-the-table deal between the insurance company and the big hospital's owner. We state employees aren't really allowed to see anyone but them or their associates. Something to do with our Republican legislature, I'm inclined to think.

[M].

Like I cared either way by then. Not that it mattered. I was read as a girl by everyone I encountered, even in my un-made up, least femme-voiced condition, and I don't remember anyone actually looking at the thing.

I was placed on a gurney in a small room and a nurse took vitals and another doctor came, looked in all the holes in my head and ordered an IV for dehydration and nausea and a shot of penicillin. A nurse came in, set up the IV needle and gave a shot in the fanny and went away.

After an hour or so, I asked about the IV when I saw the third doctor. "Oh, heh, heh. Let's get that in right away."

The nurse came back, a bit flustered, and set up the bottle on its rack. The IV was wonderful; I think it must have had a little morphine in it.

They gave Beloved a raft of prescriptions. When she brought them home, all the painkillers turned out to be pseudonyms for Vicodin and Hydrocodo.

I felt great until the stuff in the IV wore off; then the screaming began again, albeit much reduced in volume as I'd become croaky.

"Here, take one of these." Beloved offered an aspirin, the most innocuous thing in our possession.

I did, but gave her an accusing look and took up a position on the bed from which I could run to the bathroom. The nausea hit in less than two minutes. On my way back to bed I shot her a withering look. "Any questions?" I growled.

No questions. Beloved called the on-call doctor, who proved to be our own GP. She listened to all the symptoms and paid particular attention to temperature. 101.5 followed by 101.7 and climbing. "Go back to the hospital. I'd send you to the other one but you know the costs involved. They'll resist admitting but you can get another shot."

"Allergies?" "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else." "Gotcha."

While I waited on the gurney I asked Beloved to look in the cosmetics bag in my purse and find a small pair of teardrop-amber earrings and help me put them on. I tugged at my bangs a bit but they kept falling back. "We can't do everything, dear," she said gently, and smoothed down the blanket she'd begged from a passing nurse and draped over my shaking body.

For those of you who believe my marriage has no right to continue, now is the time to ask yourself -- are you defending marriage when you try to take her away from me? With more than fifty percent of your marriages ending in divorce, not because of us, I think you have a house of your own to clean. Read the New Testament for a change -- it's a very different book from the one that's been quoted so much lately ...

The doctor this time was a close-cropped woman with lesbian overtones in her manner, which made me inclined to be hopeful, but she was even more brusque than the guys had been. She asked a barrage of questions and I couldn't much understand them.

"She's very deaf," interposed Beloved, but not until the third time she said it did the so-called doctor show much willingness to get information from her.

I managed to participate through the fog of war, and the doctor asked, "has this illness affected your voice?"

"It's lower when I'm stressed." She nodded. My voice coach will not be proud of me, I thought. I'm falling down on the job.

On the other hand, it says right there on the chart, estrogen, spironolactone, [M]. These people run the most expensive health care system in the world, and they can't read.

We went through the procedures again. IV, supershot (one that's supposed to last a week), went home.

What it was, I finally learned. A strep infection. I have a spectacular history of these, and should have known all along. Without swelling you up enough to alarm doctors, it can invade new territory at light-speed. I've lost a tooth, an eardrum, a gall bladder, part of my pancreas and, some might argue, my sanity to the stuff. And it's getting harder to kill. I guess I have been telling you all this to remind you that the bugs out there are getting tough again, and to take your health seriously.

Beloved brought home yet more stuff from the pharmacy. "I've practically moved in with them. They're very worried for you. She asked if you have access to all this, that's not a good idea if you're confused about time and measures, and I said I'm taking care of that."

Suppositories for pain and nausea (these work well). Liquid painkiller. We looked at the fine print. Hydrocodo, under yet another name. We actually laughed.

-- risa b

Sunday, August 21, 2005

How do you get to choose to be normal?

While I was gone to the South Coast to a PFLAG conference, Beloved took advantage of a not-too-busy weekend to go up to the Big City, grab our granddaughter, and head for the North Coast together. They had a blast. The guy at the motel took a liking to the irrespressible six-year-old, and handed her the remote, telling her she was "in charge" of the TV in their room. They ate what they wanted, went where they wanted when they wanted to, chased waves, fiddled around in the dunes, and drove home.

On the way, the young one asked a question.

"If a guy loves a guy, that's gay, right?"

"Right."

"Uh, umm-hmm. And a girl loves a girl is lesbians."

Beloved glances over from behind the steering wheel. Kid looks like she's doing a math problem.

"That's right."

"And some people are born one way but are really the other and have to switch over."

"Yep."

"So, Papa Risa is a girl now, and you're a girl."

'Yes, we're both girls."

"So, you're lesbians?"

"Not really. We're kind of old, and it's sort of got to where that's not the point for us."

'Nah -- you're lesbians!" Smile.

"Whatever."

Granddaughter rides in silence for a bit, thinking.

"So, does she still have anything up front?"

"Nh? You mean, like boy parts?"

"Uh-huh."

"Yes. But she's going to have an operation."

"OW!"

"Yeah, ow."

Granddaughter pats Beloved on the knee.

:::

Kids seem to me to have the purest view of the world. I don't mean that the way we often do -- like they're wearing wings and a halo. I mean that their powers of observation are relatively unclouded. They go to the hearts of things, and they also absorb the things adults are really telling them rather than the things the adults think they are telling them. They imbibe the world view without the restraints.

Granddaughter discusses LGBT people in a matter-of-fact way, because her parents regard us as a normal aspect of the world. She may not define me exactly the way I would, but I am to her a person first and an interesting topic second.

Children like her, when they spot me, read me instantly -- even though the adults with them see just another late-middle-aged lady -- and smile.

On the other -- way other -- hand, when adults do hatred, even if they don't say much, if anything, about it, the small children among them pick it up and amplify it with a clarity the adults, except for very childlike ones, lack.

These children also spot me at the mall. And even if they are as young as five, they cling tightly to Mother's hand and glare. Mother has no idea that one of "those people" -- the ones the preacher told them last Sunday were dressing up as women in order to go into restrooms and rape them and their daughters -- is passing by -- has, in fact, just used the public restroom without incident, for, like, the three hundredth time.

It's for this reason that bullying of small gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, or intersexed children begins at a very early age, by other young children, often in packs. The impulse is strictly genocidal. Once they get it that these other, rarer kids ought not to have been born, they set about letting them know it -- perhaps instinctively aware that by setting apart the "different" kids and making their lives miserable, they are doing exactly what the adult world wants done, at least by implication -- shortening the expected life span of the outcasts.

Frequently the adults don't understand why the neighborhood kids are beating up on little Johnny or little Judy. They will, perhaps, be shocked and angry when their teenager, years later, comes out to them. Often they will fail to make the connection to whatever was happening to the "rebellious, ungrateful, wrongheaded" child before them a decade earlier. If they did, of course, it might occur to them that the child's self-revelation is not the result of a decision -- except the decision to tell.

I have read somewhere, and when I find it again I'll cite it here, that although some ten percent of every generation is something other than hetero, or uncomfortable in their birth gender, or intersexed, as much as thirty percent of street kids have these conditions. The difference can be accounted for by realizing that they are being thrown out -- in large numbers -- by their own families.

It's known, though it's federal policy at present not to admit it, that a strikingly large proportion of youth suicide and other deaths, such as by alcohol poisoning, accidents, drug overdoses, and outright murder, occur to young people with sexual orientation or gender identity issues, who are responding to the messages of "go away and die" from their tormentors.

They've been successfully culled from the pack.

:::

I remember the bullies. They went after me from the time I was two. I was hit in the forehead once, when very small, with a rock, and left for dead in my grandmother's back yard. All the neighborhood children, who had been there moments before, disappeared. The silence brought out my mom, who found me and breathed life back into me just in time. I've been a little more than half deaf ever since.

My mom's best friend helped protect me. I have a photo of a group of kids at a birthday party, her son's. He's not the one she has her arm around in the picture.

It's me. I must be about four. I remember something about that day -- not sure what -- but it was like the rock day. The bullies at the party had been busy culling me, and by keeping me with her, she was saying, "off limits."

When I was six, the bullies at Dixie Christian Service Camp in Crawfordville, Georgia, had been having a field day, so my mom decided I would sleep in the lodge in the women's side of the campground. I was packed into a trundle bed and lay staring at the shadowed ceiling though the open rafters, listening to the voices around me. The mothers were folding towels or bedclothes and their forms were silhouetted against a propane lamp on a table. I became aware of something -- something about their voices -- It was a no-brainer to me. I had been born among those not my kind. Somehow they knew; that was why I was being targeted. So these, the women, were my people. But how to let them know? I thought of getting up, folding towels, speaking the lingo. But somehow I knew this would not work out.

:::

The adults who feel that I, and those like me, should not have been born use a specific myth to assure themselves that they are not the "bad guys." And they are passing on their attitudes to their small children -- at least to the ones that don't happen to be like me. I don't think they always realize this is happening. The myths work better -- much better -- if they're able to convince themselves that nothing was different about us when we were born.

You see, the myths are about "choice." It's not that I shouldn't have been born, oh, no -- it's that I should not have made bad decisions.

I "choose" to be something other than a straight male. Presumably, late in high school, early in college, or somewhere along the line, I'm "recruited" by a degenerate sinner to acquire a taste for sinfulness and become obstinate in my newly-acquired evil "practices." They have to believe this because if it's not so, their precious book, the one that's in every motel room in America, is wrong about me. Which would unravel the whole book, since it's not allowed to be wrong about anything ... so you can see that the stakes, for them, are very high.

But get this: we all remember being beaten up, called names, sissy, tomboy, freak, fag, girly boy, etc. from all the way back. When we were three, or five, or seven. I was, let's face it, stoned. Just like the book says to do. At a very, very early age.

So, tell me, Dr. Dobson:

When you were four years old, did you get to choose to be "normal?"

Oh? Lucky you.

-- risa b

Monday, August 08, 2005

The shock of an old name

I attended a book-signing and packing party at the home of a local member of an organization I belong to. The house sat well above the street, with a fresh-smelling staircase zigzagging up through some well-considered xeriscaping. I was ushered into the presence of about fifteen people, some of whom knew they knew me and some of whom didn't know they knew me, depending on how long ago they had last seen me.

I had coffee and cookies, chatted with all and sundry, packed books for shipment to fulfill pre-orders, and spent as much time as I reasonably could talking with one of the authors, my friend who was my roommate in Pasadena.

As the party began to break up, the group's secretary, who had last seen me two years ago, cornered me for some clarifications. She had an incorrect email address for me. I fixed that, then said, "But I've been getting chapter and national email both just fine at my other address."

She peered at me for a few moments over her glasses.

"Umm ... is [boy name] your husband?"

... !!

Now, in a way that was a lovely thing to hear, because it's independent confirmation that my presentation has become effective. I brought her up to speed.

But I also realized what a shock it was to hear "my" old name.

It really felt like it was someone else's name.

I had no idea the guy was so ... gone.

I could say, "no, he's no longer with us" and there would be some truth in that.

I could say, "well, no, I never married him but we were in a kind of a relationship but that's over" and there might be some truth in that. Chuckle.

When she asked the question I actually mentally pictured "him" in exactly the way one does when asked about a friend or an acquaintance. I didn't know I could do this -- it's a level of dissociation with the past about which I have heard very little, even from post-ops.

OK, if he's that person over there, in my mind, and I'm over here, where was I when I thought I was him?

I mean, I must not be too ashamed of him ... I've kept links to his old writings on the sidebar to your right. Some of it I've stolen, by changing the byline, some of it I've obscured by making the first name into an initial.

I'm not hiding behind that. Most of you know what goes in the "boy name" brackets above. The rest can find it out with little effort.

No, it's for me. It's very hard for me to hear his name. Maybe that will fade, I have no idea.

It's like if you wake up in the hospital bed and slowly realize that someone else took over your body and mind forty years ago ... and now you're coming back into yourself ... but nobody knows you, they only know this other person, the interloper, who has re-sculpted your body, changed your voice, and lost you a lot of your hair ... involved you in nested puzzle boxes of relationships you'd have never got into on your own ... provided you with descendants who have no clue as to who you really are ...

... and, worst of the worst ... you have no memories of your own. They're all his.

So you set about cleaning house. Medication will be necessary. New clothes, new deals, redefined relationships, new ID. And slowly you begin to have memories of your own. Eventually you are yourself even in your dreams. And then someone uses that other person's name ... even if they aren't talking about you, it still terrifies you ... even when you know they are "safe" to out yourself to ...

As if he might try, you, know, to come back.

But why would he? He was a very unhappy person, and even tried to die once ... maybe multiple times ...

I'm not sure. I mean, I'm not him, I don't really know what he did all that time.

Y'know?

:::

A second incident along these lines occurred a few days later. A practically life-long friend, with whom I had lunch after going full-time femme, some five months ago, met me at an event and introduced herself.

When I responded, she was a bit embarrassed -- but old friends get over these things in seconds, if not instantaneously. We picked up right where we'd left off. But, again, how had I changed that much that quickly? Something has dropped away lately. Not even sure what.

Hmm.

:::


Today, I went to a reception in the Library. Two of my colleagues, in the food line ahead of me, were conversing animatedly, and then one of them, a petite woman, picked up a water bottle she couldn't open.

The other one was a guy ... he reached for it, then, in a moment of sheer perversity, handed it across to me.

Nh? Had I flinched toward the bottle? Some shadow of a distant "gentlemanly" past? I can't tell.

"I bet she can open it."

I know he didn't mean anything demeaning by it; he hasn't, so far as I can determine, that kind of bone anywhere in him. Still.

So, ok, I took the bottle, popped the lid off and handed it to her. She eyed the bottle as if it had bitten her.

"Leverage;" I said, off-handedly. "I still have it. Can't be helped. But my strength is down more than fifteen percent." Shrug.

"Do you work out?"

Oy.

"No, I avoid everything but hiking. Trying to shrink my shoulders."

Actually, I'd spent the weekend doing heavy lifting. There will be an event at my place; maybe fifty people or more. There's not really enough shade there for that on a hot summer day, so I have been tidying up -- read brush-cutting, tearing out fences, cleaning out outbuildings. But I know how depressed I get, doing these things in pants. So, unlike every other woman in the neighborhood, I wore a coral cami top and a long sari-style skirt the whole time. Even while pulling a fence post with a come-along and two sets of tire chains.

At the end of the day, I took a long, long bubble bath and did peels, wrinkle repairs and everything else I could find in the medicine cabinet to keep myself from looking like I'd worked outdoors for two days. And worked, and worked, and worked on my poor nails.

Only to be asked to open a bottle...

But, hey. Lots of victories lately.

As a friend of mine reminded me: "There are a lot of side alleys. Keep moving. Determination, I've heard, is just never forgetting that you have a goal. Don't sweat the small stuff."

-- risa b

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