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.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The waiting game

Nobody's happy with me lately.

I keep trying to talk to people other people won't really talk to anymore, and I find myself getting tarred with both brushes.


In the past when things got like this, I used to take to my kayak, so I found time for it this weekend, and went away, paddling among the coots and herons for hours at a time, and it did me a lot of good, I think.


My hearing aid gave out, and I took it to the nonprofit that I've used for hearing aid purchases and repairs for thirty years.

We had the usual back-and-forth about name and address, and we experienced the confusion that the person on the records is who I used to be. They were charmed by it all, though, which I find really is the usual response, and the desk ladies gathered around and oo-ed and ahh-ed over my driver's license picture (nobody else seems to have a good one). Also, for good measure, my granddaughters.

I picked up the hearing aid the next day and got it from a different desk.

And the lady there didn't have a copy of the new records, I guess, because as I was leaving, she said (and I quote):

"If your husband has any trouble with it, tell him to just bring it straight back..."

This sort of thing is very comforting, but underneath my satisfaction I detect a current of sadness. This is all taking so long. I have been going to counselors for three years, and I still don't have a surgeon letter.

Which means the Social Security Agency knows my name but not my gender. And my birth certificate knows neither.

Now that we have a Real ID Act the clock is ticking ... those of us who have operations before 2008 can (except in two states) change our birth certificates. After 2008, all states are to only use photo IDs that have a record number embedded in the strip that links every swipe to a single database in the hands of the Homeland Security Department. In that database you may amend your gender but you may not change it. This is expected among transpeople to have a significant effect on their treatment by police, hospitals, etc. and their ability to get and keep decent employment and housing.

It's very surreal, because other than when I'm asked a question by a curious friend, or writing this journal, I actually don't think about this stuff that much. I get up, have breakfast, put my face on, take out my rollers, brush my bangs, grab my purse, check that the coffeepot is turned off, check that the cats are out, and go.

As in I'm really all done, I'm me, I can think about other things again.

Except there's this one thing hanging over me.

As a friend said, sitting with me on a park bench:

"Umm, uh, have you, you know, done it yet?"

And, having had the same exact thing the day before from someone else, I'm afraid I got a little cross with him.

Beloved, on the other hand, is more directly involved, so she asked last night for a scenario.

"Well," I said, "I go off hormones for a couple of dreadful weeks -- cold turkey -- We get reservations, we pack, we drive to the airport, we park long-term, we go to Miami, we check into the motel, I see Dr. Reed -- his clinic is next door -- he checks me out, and gives me a gallon of really vile stuff to drink, and it reams me out overnight, and I present myself to Anne and Ivan the next morning and they prep me and roll me in for the anesthesiologist. Then I wake up in the recovery room stuffed with packing and feeling like hell, and Anne tells me I did fine, and when they're ready they send me back to the motel. Then I watch TV and cry and moan a lot for the next few days, and Dr. Reed comes in once a day to change my dressing and check out my progress. You get DVDs and chicken sandwiches for me and hold my hand a lot. Then he says we're free to go and we fly back here and I hobble out to the car and we drive carefully home and you build me a nest in the living room and you go back to work. If we're lucky, I'm also back at work -- in three weeks. But I'm not as young as most of the others doing this, so let's say six weeks. No more spironolactone. Way less estrogen. Then there's this bit about dilators."


"Yes, ouch. But so important. Sometimes I can't even tell why, it just is. Even at my age."

And I began weeping, and she comforted me.

It is a very powerful thing, this need to become one's self.

Even without Homeland Security sniffing around my crotch, I'd be in a hurry to make this happen.


At the counselors' (there have been two of them lately; Dr. Reed will want two letters), there have been questions about what I might be afraid of.

Oddly enough, not surgery.

I've been through a lot of that sort of thing. Sometimes life-threatening, including the recent infection.

I seem to have a fatalistic streak that stands me in good stead at these times, and I go under the knife with relative equanimity.

So I try to think of what might be worrisome to me. Not much ...

Oh, there's this. I'm on a lot of anti-androgen. I've become, artificially, a person I like very much more than my former self. Quieter, happier, in a calm and unassuming way.

For me, the unknown quantity in all this is: what will it be like for my libido to return (albeit in feminine form)? I have no idea. And I find I'm actually loath to have to learn how to be me yet again.

I would prefer, in other words, to be post-menopausal in that, umm, not-interested way.

But I suppose we all get what we get, huh?


I dried my eyes, went into the bathroom to unbuild my face and put my hair up in my curlers (mine are pink, as it happens, and hers are blue) and slipped into my nightgown and went to bed.

Gracie, our grey tabby, was waiting.

Gracie hasn't had all that much to do with me in her twelve years, but in the last month she has begun her decline, a fast one. And she knows it. For some reason she's chosen me to "talk" to about it, and as soon as I'm under the blanket, she's on my chest, looking into my eyes. I give her a deep rub, and I'm painfully aware of the disappearing musculature and the startling prominence of her spine and shoulder blades. Gracie was a huge cat in her prime and now, when she lies down and curls up, it looks like she's almost able to tuck her entire body up under her massive, still-dignified head.

She looks and looks into my eyes.

"What's coming? What is this?" she seems to ask.

I can't tell her. But I can sort of relate. She and I are both facing things we can't see from here.

-- risa b

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The locker room

ave you ever noticed that in movies about young people (and sometimes in movies about older people), one of the favorite settings for stressful stuff is in locker rooms and their shower facilities?

Somehow, sitting on a bench in your underthings, surrounded by rude, sweaty jocks, or, on the other side of the gender divide, rude, catty clique members, creates a vulnerability not easily equaled elsewhere.

I always hated locker rooms.

From a very early age, I found the places terrifying. I was known by the school bullies, the camp bullies, and, yes, the church bullies as an easy victim. I had no idea why I was singled out, but it was always the case, everywhere, from the first age that I went into such places unattended by my mom or dad.

I had observed such treatment (of others) when attended by my dad, whereas in locker rooms where I had gone with my mom, behavior seemed to be really civil.

Once I was on my own, however, I had no access to the civil locker room; only the one full of loud, muscular brutes snapping one another with towels, pushing, making lewd references to one another's moms, laughing at one another's "size." Aggression was their response to being cooped up together, and I seemed to lack that response.

They found me right away. My clothes were hidden, my shower turned cold while the soap was in my eyes, and I was bruised by towel-snaps from shoulder to ankle.

Telling my parents was no help. They would look ashamed of me, then try to explain that I needed to "stand up for myself." How? Any overt move on my part would go straight to the vice-principal, the camp counselors, or the deacons, and I would be, in their eyes, a troublemaker. The hazers were experts, and the hazing was a closed system with no escape.

Physical education was a requirement in the schools and even in the colleges in my day, so, not until I dropped out did I gain control of my own cleanliness. There were still public restrooms to deal with, but I was now among adults who seemed to have a truce while in the men's room. I would survive.

Fast forward a few decades to the twenty-first century. I discovered that I needed to cross the gender divide; this apparently was what the bullies had spotted in that puny, timorous child, calling me things that were meaningless to me then, like "fag."

I went to counselors, did hormone replacement therapy, grew my hair, got facial electrolysis, learned to wear gender appropriate clothing, to walk, to sit, and to think and feel as I felt I had always been meant to do and be. I have scheduled an operation.

I explained the situation to my co-workers, friends and family. Nearly everyone was not merely supportive, but celebratory. "You're really becoming you – you look so happy." I entered the world of the ladies' rooms, where the warmth and civility that I vaguely remembered awaited me. I joined a women's walking group.

Our group hiked past an exercise center. "I've always thought about joining that place, get a little help with my waistline and cardio issues," I remarked.

"They're pretty inexpensive and really friendly. Why haven't you joined?"

"I dunno. Maybe next year – I have so much I'm dealing with this year.”

At home, I looked in the closet. No exercise stuff. Well, I could buy a sweatsuit. I looked in the dresser. Nothing. Then I spotted the swimsuit.

I know how to swim but I don't anymore, because I don’t have a left eardrum. But my beloved gave me one of her swimsuits, a nice black one-piece, which I sometimes wear in summer with a skirt, for that backless look.

I tried it on and looked in the mirror. Hey, looks pretty good. Nice on top, waist not bad ...


So that's the problem.

Until I have the operation, no way am I going to the exercise center. I would never make it in the showers.

I haven't been in a men's locker room in over thirty years. Frankly, they have always terrified me. And yet, during that time I was ostensibly not a "transwoman" but a married man with four kids. There were associations for me that had remained raw.

Now I had an additional reason not to go – to the women's locker room – or did I?

The City of Eugene is currently struggling with a code revision that would add transpeople to the list of protected classes. Unlike some seven states, ten counties and sixty-five cities nationwide, in Eugene it is perfectly legal to fire a transperson for being trans, or to deny that person housing. Interestingly enough, it's not illegal for them to be in the restroom or locker room of their preference, but exposure, whether willful or unintended, in the presence of the "opposite sex," is illegal, thanks to a different ordinance.

Much of the public testimony, from those opposing the revision, has focused on restrooms. Many men, in particular, find it intolerable to think of a "man in a dress" going to the ladies' room where their wife and daughter go. Visions of terrible events pass though their minds, which in reality don't occur; statistically, transpeople simply aren't predators.

Locker rooms are, however, another layer of the problematic. This has been noted by the operators of shelters, some of whom have strict rules about separation of men from women.

I hold a driver's license that says I am female, and I haven't been in a men's room in over a year. Yet if I were to present myself to some shelters, even with a letter in hand saying I have had surgery, which hasn't yet occurred in my case, I would be denied admission unless I changed into men's clothing and slept in the men's dormitory. And I would be forced to use the men's locker room for my cleanliness, even though I have breasts.

(Aside from the main argument of this letter, here's how strongly I feel about that. If I had no choice but to go to such a shelter, and such a rule were imposed, I would make a point of dying of exposure on their doorstep.)

Interestingly, there has been considerable controversy about this issue among the very people the code revision seeks to assist. Most say that the ordinance should simply protect trans access to public facilities, as a safety issue – one gets to pick the one in which one is most comfortable. A few, however, expressing concern about a right-wing backlash, insist there should be a "documentation" clause – that the operator of the facility should be able to demand proof that one's operation is over and done with.

I'm inclined to think that such a clause would perpetuate the very discrimination the Human Rights Commission is seeking to address. Most of those who have had the operation are also "done with" transitioning. They have become the men or women they feel they were meant to be, and are now blended into the population in their new roles. For the privilege, however, they faced tremendous hurdles. The operation for MTF (male-to-female) can cost from ten to thirty thousand dollars. For FTMs (female-to-male), this can go to more than one hundred thousand dollars. Usually this is out-of-pocket, as most insurance companies are as transphobic as nearly everyone else.

As you might expect, most people cannot pull together that kind of money easily, and, if they have been trying unsuccessfully to get a job or find an apartment, this is even less likely. Of all transpeople, the ones who tend to be looked down on the most – by straight people, gay people, and post-operative transsexuals alike – low-income MTF and FTM "pre-ops," cross-dressers and drag queens – are the very ones most likely to need shelter access and are the very ones who will have no documentation they can show.

It's all a very sad case, ultimately, of elitism. The documentation is supposed to keep other people from looking at low-income transpeople naked. But a transperson is no more likely than anyone else to want anyone looking at them naked!

I'm accepted in the ladies' rooms because I'm pretty passable – when dressed – and there is a lot of privacy. Each of us has a place to sit down where the others can't see us. The stress level for all concerned is way lower than that in an open row of urinals. Dressing rooms in retail establishments work the same way. Each of us has her own space in which to undress and dress. Privacy, I think, may have been the issue all along. Men and boys like their privacy as much as women, and it's denied them in the locker room, so they mask their anxiety with aggression. If men's as well as women's locker rooms and showers had the privacy that restroom stalls and dressing rooms have, the anxiety level, and the potential for misunderstandings, would be reduced considerably for all concerned.

And transpeople would be a non-issue.

It's not about the transpeople, my dears, it's about the privacy. Wherever, whenever, and for whomever. In American culture we have a badly designed system of public facilities, and none of us is well served by it.

Consider that many of those who have been attacked or arrested in restrooms and showers for being in the "wrong" place are in fact in the right place. These are cases of mistaken identity. There are straight and gay men who look, through no fault of their own, more like women than like men, and there are women, straight or lesbian, who look more like men than like women. And then there are the intersexuals, those born with characteristics of both sexes, whose physical appearance, especially below the waist, can in some cases cause a lot of confusion.

If we were to adequately address the needs of these people, none of whom are necessarily trans (a very rare condition), as well as the privacy needs of the entire population, the trans issue in public accommodation might simply disappear.

Just hang a three dollar curtain around your showers, folks.

I'll bet we could find some rich liberal who would be willing to foot the entire bill.

-- risa b

Sunday, October 09, 2005


A (rather small) contingent of PFLAG volunteers showed up in the rain for the Eugene Celebration parade. What we lacked in numbers, though, we made up in visibility. We're known for the rainbow umbrellas we sell as a fundariser, so we walked the parade route with these and a banner. It was startling to hear such applause -- people standing up from their blanket-wrapped lawn chairs to clap and shout "Yay PFLAG!" I cried the whole way, and dropped a smiling curtsy from time to time through the proud and happy tears.


I have two counselors now, which is what it takes to get surgery with my surgeon: a letter from one, with a doctorate, and a letter from another, which basically says, "yeah, the other shrink is right, she needs the operation."

They've basically told me, yes, this is going to happen, so I sent my deposit to Dr. Harold Reed and told my doctor's office to send him my medical history.

One feature of all this activity is that it is now time for me to begin what we euphemistically call "south pole work."

That is, electrolysis of the genital area. Hair needs to be gone from everything that will be inverted or become labia, a month before the surgery date.


So I asked my electrologist about this.

"Yeah -- I do that."

"I'm, uh, not shy, but, umm, I worry. I mean, I get pretty jumpy when you do my eyebrows or upper lip."

"Well, what you do is, you get your doctor to prescribe you some EMLA. Put in on the target area in quantity about an hour before you come in, and cover everything up with plastic wrap. it won't be too bad."

So I got the EMLA and took it to work with me, and went to the ladies' room an hour before going to see her, and did -- I hoped -- apply liberally.

For the first few minutes, it wasn't so bad.

Then she shot a hair and it lifted me right off the table.


"Maybe we'd better do face."

"Umm, up till that point we were, um, okay; maybe there's are some spots I covered better than others?"

"Sure, I'll try here." BZZZT. "How was that?"

"Uhh, way better. I can go with that."

BZZZT. "What it is, is, you didn't put on enough." BZZZT. "I said in quantity." BZZZT.


We lasted forty-five minutes, then moved to face work.

This week, I went to see my new backup counselor, which went very well, then ran to the ladies' room, slathered on EMLA like there's no tomorrow, and drove out the the small town where my electrologist lives, on a lovely hill in the country.

"Didya use enough?" she asked. She's, like me, an old-fashioned country girl. What she says goes! I could see her sheep grazing out the back window. I know she can do her own lambing and shearing, so she's apt to be very no-nonsense.

"Hope so," I said. In fact, so far as I could tell, I was completely desensitized from hip to hip -- Dr. Reed could go ahead and operate -- the entire Green Bay Packers could kick me there -- All Quiet on the Southern Front.

BZZZT. Didn't feel a thing. Yay! BZZZT.

But five minutes later, I could tell what she was doing. Five minutes after that, I began strangling the hanky that, for some reason, I had in my hands. Ten minutes after that, I began counting the blossoms on a flower-print ceiling hanging that she has -- 1,028 forget-me-nots. Ten minutes after that, beads of sweat formed on my upper lip and eyelids.

We told numb stories.

I had been living in a cabin on a farm where I worked, away from the main house, and one night, about two in the morning, something fell across my face and woke me up. I reached up tentatively and felt the object in the dark.

It was a human hand.

Sheer dread, coupled with a little nausea, attended my further investigations. There was a naked forearm attached to the hand. I found the elbow -- here the arm took a right-angle turn -- I continued feeling my way up the arm till it came to my shoulder.

My own left arm had fallen "asleep" on the edge of the cot and as I rolled over it had slapped me with all the strength of a falling dead weight.

I told her this story and she thought about it a bit -- BZZZT -- and then sat back, took off her magnifiers and started giggling. As soon as she did, so did I, and we guffawed, snorted and whooped for about three minutes.

We had to move the clock.

"Heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh." BZZZT.

Finally -- she shot a hair and it lifted me right off the table.


She looked at the clock. "Well, it has worn off, I reckon; we've gone fifty-nine minutes. You want to call it a day?"

Yes, actually.

As I made myself presentable, she remarked, "I'm glad they don't need any more taken off than they do -- that's always a hard angle for me, because this is my only table."

"Do people sometimes need more?"

"Well, not for the operation. I get people who, for reasons of their own, want it all done. I tell em, 'let's do the bikini line first, then we'll talk about the rest of it."

She grinned.

Since I can only afford an hour a week, we'll start alternating bottom and face work until we're done with the bottom. That's fifty dollars a week, in case any of you are wondering why I haven't bought you any presents lately.

-- risa b


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