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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Earned your keep

After a week, Dr. Reed regarded me as ready to travel -- with important caveats. I was to protect the clitoris, which is not yet hooded and also lacks labia minora (he uses a two stage surgery). I must religiously use the stents -- his recommendation is five times a day, twenty minutes each. The body seeks to close wounds. I must end each day with a thorough irrigation using a Betadine recipe. And I must avoid -- let's call it overexertion -- for six weeks.

The hotel where we were staying, the Bay Harbor Inn, had understood me to have reserved the room only until the 25th (my own recollection was the 28th), so we needed a place to stay for three more days. On the Internet I checked around and collected ten telephone numbers of likely places to stay. It being Spring Break season in South Florida, only one of them had a room for us: The Ramada Plaza Hotel in Hollywood. Beloved packed all our belongings, and me, into the rental car and we departed the Islands by way of the bridge to Haulover Beach on U.S. A1A.

The Plaza turned out to be a delightfully strange urban pastel artwork, twelve blocks from Hollywood Beach, done in what its brochures call Mediterranean Revival, which means there are fake rock grottoes and fake wall cracks everywhere. We discovered a pedestrian bridge across the alley into an office building with a central atrium, with wrought-iron railings and graceful woodwork. Walking through the gallery, one finds a variety of one-horse shops, such as a waxing parlor, and open-air bars and restaurants opening onto Hollywood Avenue, with more restaurants and shops in all directions.

The tempting shopping district proved my downfall. At my instigation, we lunched at one of the sidewalk restaurants, listening to a live jazz combo and lingering over cheesecake, then shopped in a variety store that featured a wide selection of intriguing antique jewelry.

Afterwards I took to bed immediately, but as the evening and the next day progressed, it became increasingly clear that I had not protected the clitoris enough. I lay still all the last day, watching moronic television programming and napping, hoping to recover enough from the rubbing to make the trip home without further damage.

Tuesday the 28th dawned as beautifully as all our other South Florida dawns; Beloved rose and made ready for her day, and packed, and I carried out a dilation, aware that I would not have another opportunity until midnight, Pacific time, sixteen hours away, at best.

We drove north on what we had understood to be U.S. One until it petered out in a residential neighborhood, then backtracked to Sheridan Avenue and took Interstate 95 around the airport to its entrance from the other direction. We had allowed plenty of time for this sort of thing. Our strategy was to check most of our baggage, to carry ample water, to request a wheelchair at all airports, and to put up my feet on seats at all opportunities.

These ideas worked well in the early going, and we both caught up on sleep on the morning flight to Charlotte, North Carolina. But the next plane was a disaster for us. An Airbus 320, it has narrow seats, in cramped rows, three to a side of the single aisle. On it we flew to San Francisco, where a storm had put many arrivals in disarray, spending more than six hours in those seats. We arrived dehydrated and disoriented, both feeling as if we had come down with the flu, and I had begun -- ever so slightly -- bleeding, in a worrisome place.

Worse, there was now a change of service provider, on a concourse over two miles away, with a flight scheduled to depart in twenty minutes. We found an emergency shuttle that actually runs across among the jets, fuel trucks and baggage wagons on such occasions for planeloads of stranded passengers, and all made the gate with one minute to spare -- only to find that our flight to Eugene was also running late -- as it was a regional turnaround flight that, in its capacity as an arrival, had also been delayed!

This seemed like luck, but now began a strange dialogue between Beloved and the airline officials, which I had become too hazy to follow well. I was now marked as a wheelchair passenger, and the officials were under the strong impression that, to put me on the regional flight, they must send me to a gate with an elevator, so that I could be shuttled to the plane and carried -- step by jouncing step -- onto the aircraft. The gate in question was the one from which we had just been shuttled -- miles away. If we hurried, they intimated, there might just be time!

Beloved went in search of a wheelchair and attendant to get me back whence we had come. She parked me by a small eatery with a railing, but at length my legs failed me and I wound up in folded posture, on the floor of the busy concourse. This attracted the interest of the hundreds of passersby, some of whom offered assistance, but I assured them a chair was on the way. Ultimately -- after what seemed a very long interval to me and some of my well-wishers -- this proved true.

We rolled, rolled and rolled -- to the gate on the other concourse -- to be told, along with another wheelchair passenger, that the officials at the regional gate were all wet -- the plane would be large enough for direct access and the elevator and shuttle would not -- could not -- be utilized. We must go back ... quickly ...

We arrived at the regional gate, for the second time, just in time, and boarded in short order. Our pilots, flight attendants and fellow passengers being nearly all Westerners, we immediately felt much more at ease than we had in the cross-country aircraft. Beloved asked to sit with me -- our seats had been separated by the boarding passes -- and this was cheerfully arranged. I had a window seat, a thing which I love -- even at night -- and as we rocketed out over the Bay, I craned to see the magical golden lights of San Francisco and of the Northern California coastal communities, with the broad stride of Orion across the dark background of the Pacific Ocean.

In Eugene, of course, it was raining hard -- icy, glutinous drops pooling onto roads and fields, with temperatures in the low forties. Beloved waited for the luggage -- a seemingly hopeless activity, given all the confusion -- but every piece arrived! -- and bundled it all, and me, into our very own car to drive to our very own home. As Beloved drove, I recounted all the amazing things she had done to make the trip possible and a success.

"On this trip, you have, you know, really -- ahem -- earned your keep for life."

She looked over at me, amused. "Yep. Sure have."

At the house, she found the key, turned on the lights, let me in, immediately put me to bed with a hot pad, brought in the luggage and went through it for Boyfriend, the loaner dilator. After what seemed a long time, she came to me, crestfallen.

"It's not there. It's not there! I've looked everywhere -- every pocket, all the plastic bags."

"Umm, how about the lube jelly? Did you come across that?"

"No, but we have more."

"OK, if they're both gone, it's my fault. I used them after you had us all packed. So they will have gotten tangled up in the sheets while I was looking at the Cartoon Channel and, uhhh ... by now, been found and thrown out by the Ramada maids."

"Oh, great."

"Well, I'm sure they know what to do with used dildos."

"We'll have to buy Dr. Reed a replacement."

"Or maybe ship him the small one from the new set. Meanwhile -- have we got anything we can use? Till the set gets here?"

She scoured the house and came back with a basket full of candles -- the best kind for the purpose -- hand dipped tapers. I picked through them.

"This one looks pretty close to Boyfriend's size. But, umm, I think my friends tell me I should use a condom to keep the wax out."

Neither of us has ever owned a condom.

Beloved thought for a moment. "Wait a bit! I have just the thing." She went away and came right back.

In her hand she held a box of rubber examination gloves. "Just put the candle in a finger!"

That woman is a genius ...

--risa b

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Full complexity

Somehow I expected that after the operation, there would be a complicated phase, then a simpler phase, then a life of simplicity. In fact, things were simple after the operation, then became less so, and now, eight days later, have blossomed into full complexity.

I started out with a lot of bandages on me and packing inside me and a very large-capacity pee bag hung near me, which was emptied for me at regular though infrequent intervals. All I had to do was drink a lot and eat puddings and sleep; the rest would be taken care of.

But as my strength builds, so does my independence, and as my independence builds, so does the need for decision-making: where does this thing go? How do I deal with that stuff? Can I make it to the store and back before I have to empty my thigh bag? Am I going to have to stand up to empty this thing, and will anyone think it's a guy in there?

I've gone from a near-blissful state of infancy in the earliest days of the week to something like a portable E.R. in which I'm both the intern and the accident victim.

But it does mean I don't have to lie around in bed while an interesting and very scenic cityscape happens just out of reach.

Beloved drove me to the beach. I got to see the range of different neighborhoods from Bal Harbour, through Surfside, to North Beach. The shops all seemed careworn and under-shopped. Many of the apartment buildings, still hampered by hurricane damage from more than six months ago, were under half-hearted reconstruction.

Men and women of all colors and builds, most talking into cell phones, cheerfully jaywalked or parked convertibles beneath No Parking signs. I saw few children. Every third vehicle seemed to be a police car, each from a different jurisdiction. I couldn't understand why they weren't arresting everyone in sight, all of whom seemed to be walking, biking, or driving illegally.

We discovered we hadn't brought change for parking, which rather nixed the beach visit for us, even though none of the cars parked at meters (and there seemed to be no spaces without meters) had any time left -- a sea of meters all registering Violation with one mighty voice.

So we elected to go the deli at the Publix Market in Surfside.

This supermarket looks like a Mission Stucco office building, and has a parking garage underneath instead of all around it, so that when we first looked for it we drove past it four times before acknowledging it to be the place we were looking for. This time we were able to reach it in only three tries. We might have done better, but the one-way streets require memorization in advance.

While Beloved placed our orders -- an Italian sub for me, and a Greek salad for her, I found myself dancing in the aisle to the Caribbean muzak, skipping around nervous, preoccupied grocery carts and weaving my arms in a sensual pattern. This was a behavior that had hit me in the early days of estrogen. I had put on my first post-op patch this morning, so perhaps the dose was beginning to reach my psyche.

As it happened, there was a tall, regal and lovely black woman in the aisle who was doing exactly the same thing. We found each other, and weaved our arms in the air, laughing, and then, ever so briefly, held hands.

As she moved on to the bread racks, and Beloved, smiling with just a little embarrassment, moved away to the cheeses, I continued to shimmy in front of the sandwich bar, and a little old European-looking gentleman with raised eyebrows passed me with his grocery cart. Something told me to check on him after he had gone by, and sure enough, he had stopped, blocking traffic, and was looking back -- he had clearly just done a bootie check. And was apparently happy with what he'd seen. In tribute he did a few dance steps of his own, with one hand in the air, like a flamenco dancer. Then we both smiled and he passed on down toward the veggies.

It was time time to go -- and just in time; my thigh bag was filled to capacity.

I was worn out from this first outing, and slept a bit after dinner and the complex evening routine: dilation, douche, changing over to the bigger night bag on the catheter, pulling and replacing tape, inspecting wounds and coating them with Betadine. I awoke to find Beloved standing by my bedside, smiling. I reached up and caressed her body, and surprised myself by sensing a rush -- somewhere deep inside me -- such as I hadn't felt in a long time.

"Whoah! Did you feel that?" I asked.

"How could I not?" She tousled my hair.

"We're going to have to do something about this ... "

"All in good time, my dear. All in good time."

--risa b

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Stitches and ...

Oooo-kayyy, it's Tuesday, seven days post-op. I have been living the life of Ms. Riley, lounging about eating semi-sweet Dove chocolates and soufflès and such, watching DVDs of Angels in America (better than good) and occasionally hobbling to the potty to empty the pee bag.

This morning, things changed. We got up fairly early and walked up to the clinic to have stitches and packing out.

Beloved checked out the artwork in the waiting room, whilst I checked out the latest in interior decorating ads, sitting a bit to one side to avoid putting my weight down in the middle.

Anne was concerned. "That's too nice a dress."

"What, I paid only ten dollars for it."

"Around here?"

"No, Ross for Less in Eugene."

"Well, we're going to be a little messy today."

I changed out of the dress and hopped onto the table. Bandages were ceremoniously and thoughtfully peeled -- ripped might be the better word -- away. The stitches and packing being drawn out were not especially painful, more ... odd ... than anything. Like being wormed. A cold drench followed by a warm drench provided the messiness. Betadine stains things.

Then Dr. Reed came in. "You're a bit swollen, so we're not pulling all the stitches today, sweetheart. Make an appointment at your clinic, soon as you get home. Right? Let's see what's going on here ... O.K., now this is a stent, we've ordered you some but you can take this one with you, but mail it back, please."

He asked Beloved, and to the best of my ability, me, to watch and understand the next part.

"You have a little lip, here, see, and so this goes in at a thirty degree angle, but only about this far. That's important. Really important. Because right through a very thin wall, just a skin, really, is your rectum, and if you manage to crash through here you will get a fistula and none of us is going to be happy."

He tilted the stent down.

"See how this is level with your back? It's parallel. Don't watch me, watch what I'm doing, dear."

I was trying to read lips. Not a good time to be deaf!

After a bit, he showed me the smooth plastic rod.

"See, we got all the way to here. That's not bad. If you work at it you can get maybe another two inches."

He looked at Beloved. "She's got to do this, five times a day, twenty minutes at a time. It's gonna hurt but she's got to stick to it, or things will close up and we'll all be right back where we started."

Anne added instructions for cleanliness, and provided us with an irrigation syringe, attachments, and recipes. We would need to stop by the pharmacy for ingredients: sterile jelly, Betadine solution.

Good-byes were clearly heartfelt and heartwarming. These are good people.

Back at our room, we both collapsed. Beloved had had a rougher morning than I, as I'm rather dramatic when in discomfort, and she had had to hold my trembling hand, not knowing that I wasn't really doing all that badly.

We sorted that out, and she encouraged me to change into a more expendable nightgown.

"Here's your stuff. If you do it twice before ten this evening, I gather that's a sufficient start."

"But, I'm sore now. How am I gonna do this?"

"Because you have to. You said so yourself."

I looked at her. No mercy. She tipped her head a little to the left and let her eyes twinkle.

"All the other girls who have ever had to do this are with you now. I know you're not going to let them down."

My first try: knees up, the way I had seen it in pictures of friends of mine -- two inches.

I logged on to Andrea James' definitive Web site (See link at bottom of blog page). We looked up Dilation and I read Beloved the advice there.

"She says try it legs down. And Kegel a few times first, get relaxed."

"OK. Here's Boyfriend, all clean. No hurry, you have all evening."

Legs down worked. Four and a half inches for twenty minutes.

Ouch ...

--risa b

Thursday, March 16, 2006

March 14, 2006

This post is about sexual reassignment surgery. If that's likely to offend you, halt right here and go read something else. 'K?

Tuesday: I put on a simple muumuu that Beloved bought for me, with nothing on underneath, and brushed my hair, and did without makeup or jewelry. We walked up to the clinic and rode up the elevator with other people who were on their way to work. It was as though we were on our way to work, too, which of course we were. Dr. Reed, already in his O.R. greens, found us in the waiting room and led us to his office. There were a few last documents to sign, and then he set up the famous Confessional Video camera for the taped conversation.

"Now, Risa, you understand what it is we're going to do here?"

"Gender Reassignment Surgery, by penile inversion."

"And you understand that it's irreversible?"

"Yes, sir."

Things seemed to be in a whirl after that. I changed into a gown with Beloved's help, and walked down a short, brightly lit corridor. There were an anesthetist and two male nurses, and Anne, all dressed for sterile work, and I was led to the table and hopped onto it as invited. An IV was inserted into my right arm, and Anne gave me a "dry shave."

I chatted with the anesthetist the while, talking of my experiences working in the O.R. of a primate center, three decades ago. And then I fell asleep.

When I came to, it was past four o'clock in the afternoon. I was in one of the three skinny beds, gurneys almost, in the recovery room.

Beloved came in.

I looked at her. "You are so beautiful," I said.

We held hands for quite some time, and meanwhile she conferred with Dr. Reed and the night nurse, an expansive, comforting presence. When all matters seemed settled, Beloved retired to the hotel for a well-earned night's rest, and Dr. Reed retired to a bedroom he occupies during a patient's first night of post-op.

Anything happens, I'm right here." He pointed to the bedroom door.

The nurse checked my vitals, and we settled in for a long night. I slept sometimes, and lay awake sometimes, and chatted with her a lot. She's retired. A widow. Takes on temporary assignments "so as not let my head get rusty." She likes fishing. She has traveled to many countries, but not Africa. "Too many diseases, too much fighting. It don't feel right to just visit."

I suggested she start with Botswana."They got control of their own diamonds. So it's completely different there."

"See, there, that's the whole problem. Nobody ever gives Africa an even break."

"No, nobody ever has."

At no time did my pain level go past four on a scale of ten. She gave me two shots of Demerol to get me through the night.

With a little effort, I was able once to raise my head up to get a sense of my changed landscape. Dressing, blood bag, pee bag were mostly what I could see. But, yes, some hint of things to come -- I was going to look all right in a bathing suit.

So little difference really. What, I wondered, is everybody so hysterical about?

Wednesday: Beloved found me in bed, reasonably rested; Dr. Reed bustled in, and many things seemed to be happening at once. Another surgery was scheduled for that morning, so my twenty-four hours were shortened by a few. It was 6:45 A.M. With a few directions as to how to carry my pee bag and catheter, so as not to get them into the wheels, I was helped into a wheelchair for the trip back to the hotel.

This was the hardest part of the journey for me so far. I took bumps in the sidewalks very poorly -- shrieked, in other words -- and the two blocks felt like two miles of torture. What witnesses would have thought, seeing a yowling old lady in a wheelchair pushed by three tormentors through a parking lot at dawn, I don't know, but apparently the streets were completely deserted.

I was helped into bed without too much effort. We were given our instructions as to the bags, food and drink, exercise, and massage, and farewells were said. Dr. Reed turned at the door, palm fronds swaying behind him. "I'll be back every morning for a week."

Time for some reflection and recuperation. With luck, maybe a little boredom.

Beloved stood by the bed.

"Well, dear, anything you want?"

"Is it too soon for, umm, vanilla pudding?"

"Solids after four in the afternoon."

"Cranberry juice?"

"You bet."

--risa b

Monday, March 13, 2006

Have you started your prep?

Monday: at nine, we rose and dressed and walked up to the clinic, two blocks west of the hotel.

As I opened the door to the waiting room, I was immediately thrilled to see all the famous paintings.

Dr. Reed is a competent copyist, with a trained eye and hand. When not fixing people, he goes to such places as the Museè d'Orsay and brings home fascinating canvases – famous works, mostly by Impressionists – with his own signature. These he hangs on the walls of the clinic, a feast for the eyes of his patients. It feels both self-assured and generous.

They were terribly busy – people running back and forth, it seemed like an E.R. I caught my first glimpse of Dr. Reed. He practically ran to the inside counter of the clinic, instructed Anne, the Person in Charge, on something, and turned away. As he did so, he glanced into the waiting room, stopped and returned to Anne. “Is that Risa out there?”

“It is.”

He added more instructions, and whipped away down the hall. Anne entered the waiting room and spoke with us.

“Have you started your prep?” asked Anne. “You didn't eat breakfast this morning, did you?”

“Umm, Dr. Reed said on the phone, 'Come in at 9:15 Monday and we'll start your prep.' So I was expecting, like, an exam or something.”

“That will happen, but prep starts first thing in the morning. Didn't you see this?” She handed me a sheet of paper with cryptic instructions on it.

“It's the first time I've seen this one. I think.”

“Well, run right over to the pharmacy and get your magnesium citrate. Don't dally along the way, either. Do you have your Neomycin and Flagyl?”

Beloved took the paper. “Yes, and I'll keep track of her.”

“Good girl. Sorry we're so awfully busy; bring her back at noon, O.K.?”

Between the clinic and the inn there is a block of bistros and shops, and one very tiny pharmacy. Here we stopped for the magnesium citrate. The proprietor handed me a small green bottle.

“That's it?”

“Yes. One unit. Half now, half later.”

“All the stories I've read everyone says it's a gallon.”

“That's the old way. This is a little better. Still bad tasting. Refrigerate; makes it a little better.”

We went home to our little room and assembled all the gear. Green bottle, two pill bottles, a row of Fleet Enema bottles, fruit juices. Beloved planned her campaign and made her first move.

“O.K., drink half of this now.” She handed me the green bottle.

I ambled out onto the dock and looked across the water. A pelican drifted out from under the bridge and flapped up into the air some ten feet, then smashed down next to a piling. When its head came up, it was gulping down a fish. The pelican looked over at me.

Right. Bottoms up.

Not bad, really. Kind of an Eastern European lemon-soda flavor.


At noon we went to see Dr. Reed, but he wasn't ready for us until one. We had nothing else to do, though, so we memorized a few magazines.

By the time he called us into the office, I had worn out my welcome in all the chairs,and was leaning against the arm of the couch that Beloved was sitting in, reading something to her from Time.

“Careful,” he said, “Theoretically that couch arm could break.”

Damn. Always good at first impressions, risa b.

In Dr. Reed's office, with its expansive view of the surrounding town and the beach hotels in the distance, we answered a few questions, then Beloved excused herself to run get the Neomycin and Flagyl from our room. It was time for the next dose; I'd have to take them during the visit.

Dr. Reed busied himself with my medical records.

He's a lithe, spry man, maybe a little older than me, with expressive eyes and a shining head. Dapper is one word that comes to mind. Abrupt might be another, but only if tempered with gracious. He's a mixture of wisdom and curiosity, for whom the world's mysteries are beautiful when unsolved and still beautiful when solved. I began to relax. Then --

“So where are the X-rays?”

“They said they would send them both fax and CD.”

“There's nothing here. And the PTT and the PT and the Platelet Count.”

“They assured me they did send them. I'll see if I have them here. Uhh, when Beloved gets back. My copies are in that black bag she had here.”

He placed a call to the little country hospital. While this was going on, tears welled up in my eyes. Am I going to be stopped here, by these wretched pieces of paper everyone promised me, at the very finish line? I reached for a tissue.

Dr. Reed spotted me.

“Have you got sinus?”

“No! I'm just having a kind of panic attack.”

“Panic attack? We can't have those; if you're afraid of the procedure, we won't be able to proceed.”

“No, no, it's just the opposite. I'm upset because the records aren't here and I tried so hard.”

I looked down at the tissue twisting and ripping in my hands.

“I had to work so hard to get here.”

His eyes softened. “Dear, sometimes they lose things, sometimes we lose things. But we have to be very cautious here and make sure nothing is unknown that can be known about your condition.”

Beloved came in. I pounced.

“Quick, the gray pouch!”


“It's in the bag here.”

I rummaged around inside and came up with it. Beloved shook out four pills and opened a water bottle as I flipped through the copies I had been given at the country clinic, with snow blowing by outside, now so long ago as it seemed to me.

“Here's X-ray.”

“Great. That looks beautiful, sweetie.”

I held out the PT and PTT, and presumably Platelet.

“Slow down,” he said. He was taking notes on the X-rays.

He took the other sheets, scanned them briefly, and looked up.

“Well, let's go across the hall and do a brief examination.”

We were left briefly alone in a patient examination room. Beloved tied me into a gown.

After a couple of knocks, Dr. Reed came in.

He took a blood pressure. “Honey, what's your usual BP?”

“One-twenty over eighty.”

“You've got one-sixty over ninety.”

My jaw dropped.

“Wha ...?”

“Let me check the record again.”

While he was across the hall, Beloved and I looked across at each other. I had had no idea I was that stressed over the records.

Dr. Red bustled back in. “Yes, that's what the tell me – one-twenty-eighty. You do want to do this, right?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

“O.K. Well, you're gonna be fine. Now lie down, on your back, please.” With that dropping inflection New Yorkers use for the last word of a polite request. A gentleman. Maybe I should relax, then, neh?

Much of the rest of the exam was routine -- “cough.” “Exhale.” -- and the like – but he did a couple of things that were new to me. One was that he took a very specific measurement. The other was that he commented on the electrolysis.

“Perfect,” he said.

Back in his office, Dr. Reed seemed much more expansive and welcoming. We chatted awhile – longer than I would have expected, with such a busy morning – and he showed us the prep room, the O.R. -- very nice, as small O.R.s go – and sent us back to our den, giving Nurse beloved the necessary instructions along the corridor.

“Lots of water – lots of juice. She needs potassium, her potassium is low. Apple juice. Orange juice. Vegetable juice. And then nothing after midnight. O.K. See you in the morning. Talk to Anne before you go.”

Anne swiveled in her office chair toward the counter. “9:15 tomorrow.” She smiled.

--risa b

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Haulover Beach

Sunday: We went shopping and then, briefly enough, looked for a beach. The supermarket is several blocks away, south on Harding Avenue (Route A1A) from the Bal Harbour Shops. We didn't spot it at first because the entire grocery store is on the second floor, above its own parking lot. One rides up a rubberized moving walkway, and another one brings you back to the ground, grocery cart and all. Selections and prices were good, but the store was filled with people from all over the world, speaking a variety of languages, and many of the patrons were boorish beyond belief. If you stopped to check a price, they tried to run over you; if they stopped to check a price, nothing you could do would induce them to shift their cart so that you could eventually get by.

Outside, I met an old woman walking her dog, which was one of those black and white sausages the size of a large Chihuahua but with the face – and tail – of a beagle.

“I've been here thirty-four years.”

“I like your shift – it looks like a design by Australian aborigines. And that hat looks so practical – cute, too, but practical.”

“It is very practical. One mustn't burn, you know. Yes. I got the dress for twenty dollar. I think. I think it was twenty dollar.”

“No! But it's very nice.”

“Twenty! And my shoes -- ten, new! You can live here very reasonable if you try.”

We drove a few blocks north, to Haulover Beach, which I had spotted on the drive from Lauderdale. Parking is five dollars. Here, it's a bargain. There are numerous picnic tables and barbecue grills in the shade of the palms. Parking, so scarce near the hotels, is plentiful. The beach is right across the sea wall, steep and narrow, with small combers curling in near the north jetty of the river entrance. Charter cruisers, motor speedboats, and ski-doos roared in and out of the harbor, leaping from wave to wave. Lifeguards whistled and yelled at the swimmers who came too near the jetty or the rip tides. Families haggled, in several languages, over the first or the last hot dog. Kites whipped around in circles and chased each other down.

Beloved and I walked along the ocean, barefoot in the sand, which was soft even at water's edge, as the tide was at its height. Brown children ran by by us continually, close enough to grab and hug, were such a thing permissible. Others bobbed around in the green waves, laughing and teasing one another. These were mostly locals, and the hominess of the scene was an absolute joy.

Beloved stopped and bent over.

“Hey! These are not bad shells here.”

“That's amazing; you'd think they would all be vacuumed up, with so many people.”

But no one else was shelling. I have read somewhere that only tourists shell. I don't know; if we lived here I'm sure we would both pick them up.

She bent over again. “Look! Coral!” Busy hands.

On the way back to the car, we stopped by a grove full of sizzling braziers and the sounds of families murmuring to one another in warm Spanish. A man leaned on his bicycle just inside the shade line, watching the beach and the harbor. He was short, very muscular, and red as a lobster.

“Hi, ladies. Liking it?”

“Oh, yes, very much!”

“I love it. I live about two miles up the beach. I come here all the time, just to watch people being happy.”

We could feel the intensity of the sun, and moved into the shade with him.

“Yeah, that's right, girls, that can cook you out there. I'm in the shade because I was out on the water all morning.”
“Riding around or fishing?”


“How'd you do?”

“Two good ones, about four dinner's worth.”


He peered at me through his sunglasses.

“You're not from here.”


“Wow, Oregon. Great.”

“You'd like it – rainbow trout. Not as sunny, though.”

He smiled. We watched the crowd together, totally in the present, while Beloved sat on a rock and pawed through her new treasures.

--risa b

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hit or miss

Saturday: welcome to sunny, boat-spangled Boston, devoid of snow.

This time we had reserved a chair. The front wheels, large casters really, were a bit technical for the sweet young Jamaican woman who took me on, and each member of the flight crew knelt by turns, as if bowing to me in ceremony, to untangle the wheels and help lift me across the minor obstacles posed by the joints in the airport gangway. We now began a zig-zag journey from one end of Logan to the other, featuring long corridors, some filled with running passengers, others virtually empty. We came to a junction with a few desultorily attended shops, where our attendant made inquiry as to the location of the mysterious B13, and was directed across the wild traffic of arrivals to another building entirely.

If you know Boston drivers you know that our lives were now in her hands.

She flagged down a policeman who set about waving cars to a stop, the first few of whom ignored him at about twenty miles over the posted limit. He fairly leaped into the stream then, forcing vehicles to halt rather than run over him, and delivered them some stern language as we scuttled past. I don't that he heard my thanks, but he has my undying, if anonymous, gratitude.

It was necessary, here, to go through Homeland Security again. Beloved had to take off her shoes and deal with my laptop and a dozen other stressful details, with a long line behind her and nervous and harried officials in front of her, barking contradictory orders. I, meanwhile, was wheeled into a space called “Female Assistance,” where I was carefully, gently, but thoroughly frisked by a woman in Federal uniform. I was calm enough throughout all this (Beloved wasn't), but the thought did cross my mind that if this frisk was going to go another six inches in that direction, things were going to get really interesting really fast. But the guard seemed satisfied and waved me on with an apologetic smile.

Boston to Fort Lauderdale is a surprisingly long flight compared to Denver to Boston. We of the glaciers and icy cascades sometimes forget how far away the subtropical realms really are. Beloved slept the entire way, and I slept much of it, not having, as I generally do, access to the windows for reading the gleaming dreamscape below – which in this case consisted of the Atlantic Ocean, farther east over it than I had ever been, except perhaps for part of the approach to St. Johns, Newfoundland, nine years ago. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I dreamt fantastic scenarios of bungled encounters with Florida airport officials.

Upon landing, two very exhausted and crabby Bears worked out their frustrations in a quick, not very energetic tiff, made up, dealt with the missing luggage and the car rental, and made their way into the rental garage. We dumped our carry-ons into the trunk. Beloved was the designated driver, but she looked like she might collapse at any moment.

“And,” she pointed out, “I can't find my sunglasses.”

I took the keys and opened the driver's door. “Hop in. It's not a bad drive, and I'm feeling very up to it all of a sudden.”

She immediately fell asleep in the passenger seat and missed the entire ride. I drove through Hollywood, past Haulover Beach and into Bal Harbour. Passing the Bal Harbour Shops on my right, I watched, for, and found, the causeway turnoff, 96th Street, a.k.a. Road 922. Beloved awoke and looked about her.

“Toll Road? All the money is in the back.”

“S'okay, we're not going all the way to the causeway.” I crossed a bridge. Underneath, pleasure boats and pelicans made passage. “See, here's the hotel. Right on the water.

While we found the hotel to be a bit odd and mysterious (bar with no patrons, banquet hall with no banquets, swimming pool with no swimmers), and our room smaller (and painted a darker green than we could have anticipated), everything seemed acceptable. Funky, but acceptable.

Service is rather hit-or-miss. The hotel is run by students of Johnson Wales University, which is a vocational school for the hotel and restaurant trades. They seem very focused on specific routines. The continental breakfast, for example, is excellent, though Beloved says Florida in general could use better coffee. On request, they build very nice omelettes, otherwise it's the usual fruit, rolls, fruit juices, milk and cereals. This is served from seven to ten a.m. in the otherwise mostly disused banquet hall. If you want room service, however, or just need to make a spontaneous request or solicit information, it can be difficult to find someone, or, when you do, your request seems to stress them.

Our bathroom is unusual in having a walk-in shower with no ledge to step over, a special chair to sit in while showering, and hand rails. Perhaps this is why the doctor likes to use these rooms. There is a lightning-fast ethernet connection. The television has the minimum number of stations, and no DVD or even VCR, but who wants to watch television? The beauty of this place is not in its rooms, but its dock.

The dock runs the length of the building and has tables and chairs placed at random in an informal and welcoming manner. Here one sits, in the sun or in the shade of coconut palms as desired, supplied with water, or wine, or coffee, and waves to the parade of yachts and speedboats, all of whose passengers wave back. Pelicans, gulls, cormorants, and anhingas pass by, tiny minnows congregate in the clear water at your feet, larger fish jump and splash from time to time, and, best of all, the water humps up here and there due to the activities of manatees.

Across from the island is the larger island of Miami Beach, with the towns of Bal Harbour and Surfside and their enormous beachfront motels. The older neighborhoods line the river, however, so that the worst of this gigantean architecture does not command the view. Sunsets, in which the hotels and other buildings glow yellow, pink, and orange, are especially lovely, and one stays out in the cool, almost cold (in March) evening breeze, to watch the moon come up and throw its handful of mysterious glitter on the river.

The commercial district of Bay Harbor Islands is dominated by doctor's offices, with the largest building, four stories high, containing a number of specialists' suites. Half of the third floor is taken up with the offices of Dr. Harold Reed, my surgeon.

It was still Saturday morning; we went straight to bed. It was a good three hours before we could contemplate setting up shop and exploring the vicinity.

Saturday is the Sabbath to many of the island's inhabitants. Most of the shops were closed. Groups of men walked about in suits and wide-brimmed black hats, wearing beards. A small boy ran past us, dribbling a basketball. On the back of his head he wore a yarmulke. He was exactly that age which, in my culture, would regard anything older or younger than their peers as beneath contempt. Accordingly, I gave him a wide berth.

Sitting on a bench by the street, I watched him dribble up the street toward a young woman and an older woman, pushing a baby in a carriage. The boy stopped to talk with the ladies.

The infant reached for the basketball. The boy leaned over, and, briefly, for it was so large and heavy, and the little pink hands still small and week, gave the baby the basketball.

--risa b

Friday, March 10, 2006

Harbinger of things to come

Thursday morning: snow. We haven't had much snow here in the last decade, but here it was, a harbinger of things to come. I brought the push broom from the barn and shoved away three inches of snow from the surfaces of the car. Driving to work was iffy but not impossible.

I worked hard, until late afternoon, making sure that all the time cards were turned in. Many well-wishers came by, bringing cards, hugs, quiet farewells, and gifts. I left at 3:30 in the afternoon. My journey had begun.

Even worse snow and ice were now predicted for the one day this year that I needed it not to happen. I called Beloved at work and she agreed we might need to stay at the airport overnight, rather than risk not being able to get there in the morning.

I turned on the radio and boogied. Most of my things had been packed for three weeks, and I knew what I wanted to wear and had all of it hanging from one hanger. I watered the greenhouse, wrote and mailed five name-change letters, ate dinner (a homemade veggie burrito), washed the dishes, and cleaned the bathrooms. Beloved, who had had an even longer and harder week, came running in.

“It's snowing!” She frantically packed.

As bags became available I carried them to the trunk of her car. I could see my little wagon, on the driveway, already covered with two inches. The ground felt slick underfoot.
Through flurries, we drove for eighteen careful minutes, especially over bridges. Other drivers were being cautious as well.

The airport was practically deserted, so late at night. We found a row of seats without arm rests, which formed an acceptable couch, and lay drowsing on it by turns, watch and watch.

A lady from Texas made our acquaintance, and commiserated that we should be going so far only to have surgery. “Florida should be fun!”

“Oh, it will be. But I'll just have to be flat on my back for part of it.”

“Well, I certainly will be thinking of you.”

We met many such well-wishers for the rest of our journey.

The plane from Eugene had to be de-iced, a rare procedure for Mahlon Sweet Field, and we left an hour behind schedule. Views of the Rockies and such, as the flight progressed, were stunning beautiful, as views from aircraft windows tend to be, but our worry concerning the lateness of the flight began to occlude other considerations.

Friday: welcome to sunny, cold, brown, and snowless Denver, Colorado. Sure enough, although we ran the half mile from one gate to the other, it was hopeless – our flight for Charlotte had left without us. We were told where to find Customer Service.

The harried women behind the desk dealt with one tragic disaster every three minutes, and ours was but one of many. Weather was making trouble across much of the country that day.

“Where to?”

“Fort Lauderdale.”

She typed for a long time. “There are no open seats for Lauderdale from anywhere today.”

We conferred.

“ Can you get us to Miami-Dade?”

Clackety-tick. “No... I'm so sorry, it's a tough time of year.”

Opa-locka? Taken. Orlando? No way.

I thought a bit about driving time.

Daytona? Full. Tampa-St. Pete? No good. Tallahassee, Gainesville? Jax?

Tickety-clack. “I have an Atlanta.”

“I was born there. I know how far it is from Atlanta to Miami, and right now I don't have the strength to do it.”

“Yes, it's pretty long way.”

“Ok, what's the very first Lauderdale?”

“Umm ... oh hey, I can get you two places to Boston and on to there from another airline. It's going to be terrible between the terminals, but we'll give you the best instructions we can.”

“When is that flight?”

“11:55 PM.”

Fifteen hours away. I wrote her a thank you note card on the spot; she seemed really touched.

Now began some of the strangest fifteen hours of our lives. Neither of us is young, and the Denver terminal is not kept warm enough. We ate as best we could, and drank water and juices, and bought tiny little airline blankets. I put on the little socks with the Jalapeno peppers on them and hiked up and down to keep warm, while Beloved lay under the blankets on the floor by a sunny window. Then I lay down and she hiked. When we could no longer keep warm by other means, we bought hot chocolate and burned the tips of our tongues. By the time we needed to move to our new terminal, we both looked as though we had aged five years. In the restroom mirror, I could see fine lines all over my face, an exact portrait of my mother. My feet had swollen to the point where I could not get into my shoes.

I had never seen, at the ends of my legs, two such feet. And I felt laryngitis coming on. When I talked with Beloved, I sounded like an ancient raven.

We were going to need some help. Found a wheelchair and commandeered it.

Someone came by.

“Where are you going with that?”

“Concourse C.”

“You can't.” They have to stay here in B. You're supposed to reserve one in advance.”

“Well, dear, I'm left with two choices. You can help me reserve this one or I can crawl to C on all fours. And I will do that in front of God and everyone.”

She thought about that for a moment.

I added, “and where, my dear, did you get that wonderful pendant?”

She joined our team on the spot, and found us an attendant to wheel me over to C.

Through moonlight, we flew across the brilliantly lighted rectangles of the red states, with the winds of the engines moaning in our sleep-befuddled ears.

--risa b

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Tired of waiting

My main laptop, which was supposed to show me dvd's and keep me connected during my convalescence, had total hard drive failure this week.

Then my mini-DV camera lost touch with its CCD.

So they're both in the shop.

So am I, so to speak -- and they are running out of veins to punch.

I made an appointment with a doctor whom I have never met, to get the surgery release letter. With three days left in which to get it to all come together. And then emails and phone calls began coming in to my in-boxes asking me to testify -- again -- at city hall.

And there's getting the job to the point where it can let me go for three weeks (maybe -- ouch -- more) -- and packing -- and, and ....

I spent the morning working -- frantically -- then drove over to my daughter's place and we had a quiet little birthday party for her -- she's going to turn twenty while we're away. Then I drove out to the little country hospital and had yet another blood draw, then waited for the doctor.

His intake nurse is one of the good ones. She had read all of my doctors notes without ever raising an eyebrow and was welcoming, gracious, and solicitous. While waiting for her to get the blood pressure cuff, I had an unexpected panic attack, and was weeping before she could get her numbers.

"This one isn't going to look very nice," I blubbered.

"You're right -- yep -- 140/81." She sat down and chatted me up a bit, handing me the tissues. Without exactly ordering me to breathe deep, she found a gentle way on to the topic of breathing exercises, and when I looked a little more centered, she hopped up and rechecked me before I could start whining again.

"See? 120/70. That's the real you, and you are going to be fine."

She looked up. "So -- nervous? Excited?"

"No, tired of waiting and afraid something will prevent it."

"I know just what you mean. You're going to like the doctor, he's a good man. We'll do everything we can."

The doctor, a stooped, mustachioed gentleman who might look elderly but for an ageless twinkle in his eye, came in after a while and took quiet -- gentlemanly -- command of my life.

"Hello, my dear; you're looking lovely today. My colleague has told me all about you. Say 'Ahh' -- thank you, tonsils out, I see."


"A very good year. Gall bladder out, too?" He was looking at an arthroscopic surgery scar.

I told him my complete list -- the strep surgery, the pancreatitis, the kidney stones, the family coronary history. He listened to my chest, thumped my intestines, and felt my wrists and ankles.

"You exercise a great deal, don't you?"

"Stair climbing, hiking mostly. Kayaking in season."

He glanced at the wicked rains outside. "Yes, it's not been very seasonable for that, I would imagine."

He sat down and gave me a piercing gaze.

"You are headed into a very serious surgery. I've no doubt that your body is as up to this as it can be."

He paused for maximum attention.

"Do you feel ready? This is what you want to do?"

My eyes filled with tears again.

"There's nowhere else I can go that I'll be me."

"Fair enough." He turned to the clipboard on the counter. "Do we have your surgeon's address? Ah, a card. Yes, we can fax. Ask the nurse for her extension and you can harass us all you like until you're sure we have done what he needs from us."

I thanked him, and walked away, feeling like -- what?

Someone whose dignity is not only intact but confirmed. I felt empowered. I felt strong, I felt beautiful -- there aren't any really good words, only clichés. I felt that, should my heart burst in that moment, it would shower everyone within five miles with the most gorgeous blossoms they had ever seen.

The nurse stopped me on the way out and handed me a voluminous sheaf of papers.

"Here's all the lab results we have up to this point. In case they're a help."


It was now already dark out. I drove back to Eugene and parked near a pizza place, where I expected to meet my daughter. She had agreed to keep me company at the dreaded Human Right Commission meeting.

Her boyfriend, a gentle young man with impeccable manners, was there also, as was her best friend, a slim blonde who had played, against much opposition, for their high school football team and who was now a student at the University. They would come as well.

We fortified ourselves with cheese, olives, garlic, spinach, and crust.

I went to the ladies' room, and on my way back, caught the eye of the waitress, who knows me.

Drying a glass with a towel, she leaned across the counter a bit, to be heard over the four large television monitors blaring basketball commentary.

"When are you leaving?"


"Wow. When's the operation?"

"Tuesday! If all goes as planned."

"Nervous? Excited?"

"No, afraid, of getting a flat on the way to the airport."

"I'm predicting that won't happen. And I'll light a candle for you on Tuesday."

"Thank you, dear?"

As I rejoined the young people, Daughter's young man turned to me.

"So -- nervous? Excited?"


The meeting room, at City Hall, seemed to have about fifty people in it. I looked around. The dear faces of the long-suffering, heroic rights commissioners, the dour faces of the mean-spirited Pharisees, the fresh and almost happy faces of the young and idealistic trans-kids. In all this row there seemed be consistently from five to eight transsexuals and genderqueers, out of, in my opinion, a population close to two hundred, who willingly testify.

The fear in the trans community here is huge. And it's justified. We still have nowhere to turn if we are are fired or evicted. And we do get fired and we do get evicted. And coming to the microphone to speak puts us right in the cross hairs of those who would do us harm.

The man whose turn it was to speak before me spouted dreadful McHughian nonsense about the nonexistence of transpeople and the "charade of special rights". He even sneered, and damned if a shock of his black hair didn't fall across his forehead in the very place that Hitler's had done.

When it was my turn to speak, I walked to the microphone in front of the television camera, more angry than frightened, yet weak-kneed, seeing the evangelical scribbler in the far corner who never testified or identified herself, but simply misquoted and misrepresented trans people in the pages of hate-promoting national "family centered" media.

"Hi," I said.

"I'm Risa Stephanie Bear."

And I looked across the room at my loving and supportive family.

-- risa b

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pigs can fly

Monday I appeared at the heart institute at 6:30 in the morning as scheduled.

"And you are...?"

"Risa Stephanie Bear."

We did birth date, address, all that, and she waved me to a seat. I waited. There were about five other people.

The intake nurse came out with a clipboard. Loudly and clearly, looking at all the men in the room, she paged [boy name] several times. I was slow in catching on that she meant me.

The receptionist pointed to me. "That's his birth name," she said, in front of everyone.

I sat across from the intake nurse as she sat down to a keyboard. "Risa Stephanie Bear is my only name, my legal name for the last year, and the only one to which I can properly answer," I said by way of opening pleasantries.

She didn't really seem that interested.

She printed out a label. "Is all this correct?"

I looked it over. "No, but that's not your fault." I pointed to the "M" after my name. "This is changing forever in one week."

Our eyes met. Sure it is, said hers. And pigs can fly.

-- Just so you know that great hospitals can harbor small minds.

Upstairs, I was given an IV with thallium isotopes in it and popped into a massive machine with a moving bed and huge metal donuts that clucked to themselves as they looked at my heart from a variety of angles for the next half hour.

I was then led to a small room containing an EKG setup and a large treadmill. The treadmill was explained in detail -- it's a large one, they expect you to have some problems with it (hence stress test?), and stand on both sides of you so that if you fall they can catch you. I could see my lines on the monitor, and to me they looked much cleaner than in in 1993, when everyone seemed to think I could die at any moment.

I've done it, I thought. Turned back the clock and got a little bit more grip on life than I had for decades.

The machine began at a slow walk, and then, every fifteen seconds, picked up the pace,

"Lengthen your stride a little bit."

"Closer to the front."

"Be careful not to grip the bars. If you don't feel right, let us know."

I'm good so far. I think of my 10,000-foot mountains, the hikes around campus, the ten story building. I breathe carefully and steadily, trying to stay ahead of oxygen debt.


They have to get me above 140. I'm at 125. They set the machine to a run.

An even faster run. There it is, 140, 145. They add more thallium, and slow the machine to a gentle stroll.

How did it go? I join them at the monitor.

"We don't know everything yet, but you look really, really good to us. Why did they send you here, anyway?"

Just in case.

In case what? You're healthy as a horse, their eyes tell me.

The younger one stays with me, unplugging things from my chest. I explain my case to her. She's never really heard of transpeople before, but she gets it. I'm not a lifestyle choice. I'm just me.

I learn that she's a neighbor, rides horses on the mountain trails near my place. I realize I've seen her before, riding with her family. Her kids went to school with my kids.

Such a small town we have here.

Another half hour in the embrace of the steel donut, listening to the MRI machine muttering to itself.

And I'm free to go.

Now that that's done, I'm supposed to make an appointment with my doctor. I cannot have the surgery, now eight days away, without a letter from her to Dr. Reed on the test results.

On my two-block walk back to work, I make a cell call.

The receptionist at the little hospital in the country (who has no trouble saying "Ma'am" even with my records right in front of her, God bless her) listens to my explanation of what's needed.

"Wow," she says. "Your doctor is out all this week."

-- risa b


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