Healing

One week ago today, I stood in front of my plastic surgeon as she drew on my chest. I felt like she was performing her art on me, which, I guess, she was. Next thing I knew, I was waking up, groggy and out of it, looking out of the window on the unfamiliar hills of Richmond, CA, where my surgery was performed.

Ultimately, our transitions are about our bodies, whether or not we actively do anything to change them (although most trans people do something.) Our bodies in some way don’t fit us. This manifests in many different ways for different people. For me, one thing I felt strongly (since they appeared in my life in my late teens) was that my breasts didn’t really belong to me. And now, finally, I’ve let them go.

For most people, that might seem unimaginable – that a part of your body doesn’t feel like it’s yours. But it’s the reality of most trans people. Why that happens and where that comes from is still a bit of a scientific mystery, although it’s being slowly explained over time. But it has been the lived reality of my life for a very long time.

During the groggy drive home with the dear friend who stayed with me for a week, and for the last seven days of pain, discomfort, and, frankly, suffering, in the Buddhist sense, I’ve been in a healing process – but not just from the surgery itself. This whole transition process for me has been part of a much bigger, much broader arc of healing.

It was a part of the package I didn’t expect – the surprise, really, that deeply embedded in this process of transition was a surprising healing of my own inner and outer life – a mending of wounds and sloughing off of scar tissue.

What remains is still tender, like the scars on my chest will be for months. But I’m beginning to see the larger picture, and it looks more whole than I expected.

New Year, New Voice, New Name, New Life

So it’s 2018. It’s a big year for me. It’s the year I will emerge visually as a man. I’m having top surgery on February 6th. I’ve been on Testosterone now for 4 months, and my voice, as well as other things, have really changed:

I’ve pretty much completed the coming out and name change process. It’s interesting getting used to people calling me “Max.” I like it – and it’s also a little strange.

My legal name change process will soon be underway – I’m submitting the paperwork to the county next week, and 45 days later, I’ll have a court order with my new name and gender marker. I’ll also be submitting a change to the NY state for a modification of my birth certificate. Then starts the fascinating cascade of administrivia. Social Security, banks, credit cards, driver’s license, passport, etc. etc.

So there’s a lot of practical things to think about and do. And I’m still wanting to hold this time as sacred – to hold this big change in my life and body, and this big change in the way I will live in the world.

I’m wanting to be conscious about how I am living into this person called “Max.” Who is this man I am becoming, and what is he like? It’s so interesting to get to do this consciously – of course, I did it once before, but it was without experience, without self-knowledge, or really knowledge of the world.  But I still have so much to learn.

Max and Michelle

Seven years ago, I wrote this short piece in a writing workshop. (Originally, the name in the piece was “Michael” but I’ve changed it to “Max” as that is my chosen name.)

“Maxwell stays like a wish”

Max is always there, my best buddy in the world, friend to the end of the earth. He’s a part of me. The tall, strong man, gentle and kind. I can almost imagine us sitting in a booth at the diner, he chooses Depeche Mode, or maybe The Clash to listen to on the juke box (if they have it. Otherwise, the Rolling Stones.) He’ll order steak, or maybe just a burger, since it’s a diner, after all. I’ll just have the salad, not because I want it, but because it seems the right thing to do. He’ll be happy with the burger slopped with lots of cheese, and grilled onions, of course. We talk about life, about my parents, about women. We talk a lot about women.

I can almost imagine calling him up, talking about that woman I just met. He’ll always have something stable and wise to say, in the place where I’m all a fluttery and nervous about the whole thing. He knows me, deeply. As deeply as I can know myself.

He’s the one who buys the iPhone games, of course. Especially the ones with the orcs or catapults or cars to race around. He takes over while we’re in the BART, steering the car while my ears pop from the tunnel. He was the one that bought the big-ass TV, and I was the one who sold it a year later. But he didn’t mind. He’s the programmer, the one who can sit for hours on end looking deeply at code, seeing patterns emerge and putting them to work. I’m the one who is always putting up with clients, that is, until I get so annoyed I let him take over.

He’s always there, he stays like a wish.

I have been talking to a new friend about this conversation and relationship (between Michelle and Max) and he asked me how this conversation/relationship would look like now. So I thought I’d spend a little bit of time exploring it here. The narrator above, and below, is Michelle.

Max has taken over the role of our public face, which feels good to me. It never really fit me, that public face, that embodied living in the world. I’m all etheric and air, heart and spirit. Max is solid body – grounded in space and time, problem-solver, thing-mover, work-doer. He’s more than that, of course, and I’m more than ether, but that comparison seems to fit right now.

Sometimes I’ll peek out, see the world a bit through his eyes, the way he’s been doing that through mine for years. It looks differently, of course. Things that seemed obvious to me are a little more mysterious, and things that were mysterious (especially men and their ways) are much more obvious.  Sometimes I’m the one who has to feed him the emotional words he needs, and then he’ll remind me that he has some of those words, too, but it just takes him longer.

He’s so happy living in code these days, and I’m happy sitting “inside,” contemplating life and what it means to be human.

We make a good pair – complementary qualities and skills – together we get to be a heart-full, embodied, conscious person-becoming-man, but it took our rearrangement to make that happen fully. We’re both happy now, when we used to both be unsettled and at times unhappy with our old arrangement. Of course, Max wishes we’d been born with a male body, but then I have the sense that if we had been, this deep integration between us might never have happened, given the way our society is.

He still wants steak, I still want salad. We have both.

 

Ch. Ch. Ch. Changes

I’ve been on T (Testosterone) now for just over 4 weeks, next week will be a month. Some people have asked me if I’ve noticed changes, and there are only a few, at the moment.

One thing I’ve learned from reading and talking to people is that the changes you experience have a lot of individual variation. Some changes happen more quickly for some people than others.

I’ve definitely gotten smellier, and I can already detect changes in my personal scent. I expected that, but I didn’t expect it to seem weird – like I can’t quite recognize myself. (I hear I’ll get used to it.)

My libido is radically increased. Also expected, but surprising in its intensity. I didn’t have a super-high libido before T, so another expected but kinda weird change.

My voice hasn’t changed a lot, but it feels different. It feels more gravely, and I definitely can’t really sing right now (not that I want or need to, but I’m noticing that.) You can judge for yourself. Here’s September 5th

And here’s this week:

I do have some fatigue, but it comes and goes. My appetite hasn’t seemed to change much, which is a little surprising, as it is supposed to.

I do feel very subtly more emotionally stable, and kinda more monochromatic , but given that it’s only been a month, I’m not super sure it’s the T – it could be the effects of having made the choice to transition, a choice which feels so solidly right.

A big effect which I’m betting has more to do with the choice than T, but I can’t be sure, is that my mind is a lot quieter than it used to be. It’s hard to explain, except if you’ve been in a room with a refrigerator, and it goes off, you notice the lack of sound. You  might not be able to describe what the sound was like before, but you know it’s quieter. It’s like that. And I think it’s something I’m noticing really because of my years of Buddhist practice – I’m not sure I’d notice it otherwise.

Anyway, I’ll periodically update you on how things change over time.

Tracking Change

I started T today. Yikes. Anyway, before I left for my appointment I did two things: took a selfie, and recorded myself reciting a poem, and a metta meditation.

Each week, I’ll do that. And then, in a year or so, I’ll have a lot of things to use to make some sort of montage. It will be interesting, and I can’t wait.

Embodiment

I have spent a large chunk of my adult life seeking embodiment. For some people, that might seem odd – they just feel embodied so naturally, to question what that means might not make sense.

But for me, my body has felt other, and my enemy since I was a teenager, when I went through puberty. Or, I should correct, I was forced through puberty. I didn’t go through it naturally. By 16, I hadn’t had my period, or developed breasts at all, and I spent a month in the hospital undergoing tests as to why. And they didn’t find an answer except my pituitary wasn’t putting out the hormones my body (supposedly) needed.

I wish I’d known then what I know now, but of course, that’s impossible – that was 1977, and the only thing anyone knew to do was give me estrogen to make me go through puberty. And I allowed it.

That was a digression. Since the mid 80s when I realized that my relationship with my body was not good for me or my mental health, and I was miserable, I started a really long series of things to try and mitigate that. I started therapy (I did about 10 years of therapy total.) I started a meditation practice in 1990. In 2012 or so, I discovered Authentic Movement. I also worked with a somatic therapist.

And it got better – all of those things were incredibly helpful. I didn’t have the open warfare with my body that I’d had for so many years, just some quiet battles. I didn’t come to love my body, which was my ultimate goal, but it got better. I wasn’t miserable in my body. And then I hit a wall last year.

Last year I pretty much gave up. I decided that my relationship with my body had hit a plateau – it was where it was going to be – I came to fully accept this flawed relationship with my body. I’d plucked all of the low-hanging and medium-hanging fruit I could. And now, looking back, I realize that that moment was an important one. It was the beginning.

The point of this post is not to actually trace the history of my realization that I wanted to transition – that’s for other posts. But it’s to talk about how simply deciding to transition embodied me, almost instantly.

I now understand something I hadn’t grokked – what it’s like to be at peace with my body – even love it. I have to admit, I don’t love my breasts, but I’m getting rid of those, so that’s fine. And there are still parts that, well, perhaps, I wouldn’t mind being different. But I actually love my body now. I want to take care of it. I want to eat good food. I want to go to the gym. I want to feel things in my body, even if they aren’t super comfortable. The battle is not only over, a love affair has taken it’s place. And this is the gift that I could never have imagined being given. And for that, I have deep gratitude.

 

The Gym

At varied times in my life, I’ve been a gym rat. I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights – I would say it’s my favorite exercise. I spent a number of years away from the gym, but I’m back now. I don’t just lift weights – one of the other things I happen to enjoy is aquaerobics.

One of the things I’m doing as I go through this process is notice things.  I’m noticing what’s out there, what people say and do, and what my internal responses are.

First, of course, there is the locker room. Every time I go to the locker room now, I’m so aware of the fact that it doesn’t feel totally right (it never has.) And after I get top surgery (even if I don’t take T), it’s going to feel even less right.

Then there’s the aquaerobics group. 95% of the time, it’s all women. That was true today.  Every once in a while, one (other?) guy joins. As we were doing our thing in the pool, someone said something I didn’t catch (I’m thinking it was slightly salacious) and another person said, “we’re all girls here.”  And all I could think of was “no, actually, we’re not.”

One of the things that I’ve always hated is being called one of the “ladies” or “ma’am.” Ugh. I hate that. I’ve never, ever been a lady, and I never will be. Some aspects of my being are female, although I’d not say they were “feminine.” No part of me is “lady-like.”

The locker room, and public bathrooms that aren’t gender neutral are going to be a challenge for me, especially if I stay in a sort of in-between state after top surgery.

I remember starkly one day I was in an airport, in line in the women’s bathroom, and I heard someone behind me loudly talking about how there was a man in line, and why was there a man in line. It didn’t occur to me for a while that she was talking about me – but she was.  (I’m tall, have a short afro, and wear men’s clothes – I don’t fault her.)  Then, I turned around fully, and she looked at me sheepishly (I have large, visible breasts.) But once I don’t have those anymore, what will I do? I don’t have an answer for that yet, except if I do choose the men’s room, at least I will never have to wait.

 

Top Surgery

On Friday, I’m going to see a surgeon. I’m one of the lucky ones, living in California. My insurance will pay entirely for gender surgery. A few weeks ago (was it only that long ago?) I called Kaiser, that has a specialized transgender clinic in the East Bay. I spent a very nice time with a mental health specialist, who was I guess going through the varied things needed to make sure that I was OK for starting this process.

I’m excited and petrified. Going to doctors isn’t really all that fun for me (I don’t know that it is for most people.) But I have a fairly long history with them, having had a number of medical ailments in my life. I’ve had mostly great doctors, and a few horrible doctors, and some in between.

But there is something really vulnerable about going to a surgeon (a *plastic* surgeon at that) about this thing that has been so tender for me for a long time.

I’ve never liked my breasts, since the beginning moment they began to grow. I started puberty really late (more on that later) and it happened fast. One minute, I had a body that I liked enough. The next minute (or so it seemed), I had a body I hated. I have gotten much, much better at loving this body, but knowing that I can get rid of my breasts is a relief. I know for many of you that might seem harsh. If you love your breasts, I’m happy for you. If you don’t have any, but want some, I can’t really understand, but I can hold a space for that for you. But the idea of not having them feels so freeing.

Right now, this feels like it’s the right step for me to take. Are there other steps? I don’t know yet. Possibly, probably, maybe, who knows. One halting step at a time.