Reflections of a fourteen year post-op
Welcome to my life....
How I Got Here
When I was starting out on my journey of self-discovery and self-realization back in 1989 (see my online diary) I was so focused and so narrow minded that I hardly looked up long enough to see the land through which I was passing.
I think you need to be that tunnel-visioned to get through any major life change. And certainly, changing one's sex falls into that category.
Still and all, I kept a journal of my experiences, and simply through the process of meandering blindly along my path, I ended up criss-crossing the terrain of gender change so thoroughly that my diary has remained a popular map of sorts of the terrain through which most folks on that road must pass.
In fact, when I started out, there weren't any roads. Sure, a number of people had preceded me into this realm, but they had left no vapor trail - no clear record of what they encountered in this strange new world. So, though there might have been a few foot paths through the weeds and forests, it was pretty much all virgin land, and I had no guide to lead me across it save my own instincts.
I found this unacceptable. I craved a volume, a chronicle from some stalwart individual who had gone ahead. Some record or document that might at least hint at what lay beyond the next bend in the river.
I checked out some of the books and articles available at the library and book stores. Mind you there was no internet at the time, so information sources were seriously limited. All the material I could find was written in the past tense, retrospective of the intrepid explorer's recollections. And though I learned something of the jargon, the nature of the experience itself eluded me.
Now I am an artist in my own right - a wordsmith, a musician and composer, a photographer and filmmaker, and a philosopher. And it seems that my Muse has compelled me throughout my artistic career to center my work about the business of documenting my "in the moment" experiences and capturing them in pictures, music, and words.
So, back in the early 90s, when the very first generally available online services began to sprout up, I purchased a Commodore 64 computer (with 64K built in RAM!) and a 300 baud modem (state of the art) and joined a fledgling online community called Prodigy.
Prodigy was there before America Online. Essentially, it was a system whereby you could send email (up to one full page in length!) to other members of Prodigy, of which there were a few hundred.
You couldn't add attachments. There were no web pages. You couldn't format anything. You couldn't even send to multiple recipients. And yet, it was magical! The ability to communicate with other individuals electronically instead of through the snail mail!
Prodigy also had chat boards - not interactive chat rooms like today, but more like message boards where you could post messages up to about 1K in length. And if the message was approved by the board monitor, then it would be posted within about twenty four hours.
Any talk of sexually-oriented material was summarily excluded. So, to find people of a like mind for comradeship and elucidation, one had to be extremely cryptic in how one phrased things.
Still and all, we Prodigy users became rather adept at reading between the lines, and in short order, I had discovered a small community of about six of us who were all pre-op hopefuls, just beginning, and trying to get some sort of a compass heading for where we were pointed.
It was here that I started my first effort to provide support for the gender community through the electronic media. I began a newsletter in which I described my feelings, experiences, and perspectives in an ongoing manner. Eventually, I gave it the name of "The Gender News."
After some time, Prodigy added something new: the very first generally web browser! Apparently, there were some scientists who had figured out how to create files that a web browser could find on other computers and translate it into a page of text in your web browser!
I could hardly wait until this new tools was released to us grateful Prodigy users! And then the wonderful day arrived. I downloaded the upgrade to the Prodigy software, and then clicked on one of the links they supplied. Lo and behold, a page of text from somewhere else in the world. And it only took about a minute to load that text - remarkable!
There were, of course, no search engines per se, but Prodigy had a web page with links you could click on to see other web pages. I was staggered by the possibilities! If I could find a way to create a web page of my own, my writings could be available world-wide.
At this point, or thereabouts, I felt so confined by the limitations of Prodigy that I jumped ship and joined a new upstart service called America Online. I had the user name Melanie - that's it - no numbers, letters, or variations, just the name Melanie. You see, there were so few people on AOL at the time that I was the only Melanie.
(Years later, I left AOL and when I returned they tried to give me a name like Melanieqb1138, so I figured by that time there were a few more Melanie's and hence a few more members).
In any event, I discovered that AOL was a lot more open-minded that Prodigy had been. They even had a Gay/Lesbian forum area where you could post messages of a non-pornographic nature, and even engage in live interactive chat with others.
But, they had no Transgender Forum. So, I started one. At first, it was just a private meeting room I created each week at a specific time, populated with people who had come across my postings in other appropriate areas giving the room name and the time.
And after some time, we came in under the auspices of the Gay/Lesbian folks, which gave us regular meeting time in their official AOL conference room. Our membership grew as the online community grew.
While all this was happening, I searched all over to find a way to create my own web page, and finally located what was, as far as I could tell, the first public server that allowed members to have a web page (or pages) of their own. It was called "The Well" and was the offshoot of an eclectic North West bulletin board community that had grown up in a radical artistic online movement.
They gave me an account, but the instructions on how to create a web page might have been the Dead Sea Scrolls for all their ease of access! Still and all, after a week of trying, I finally FTPed a file into my server space, and voila! When I typed in my URL, there was the page I had created, right in my web browser.
What a thrill that was. I knew that anyone in the world who had that URL could read my work. But what should I write? What subjects should I share as a writer? And then, of course, I was struck by the obvious. Why not start a Transgender Support Site?
By this time, AOL had just added a web browser to its system, and they were hooked into one of the very first search engines. And there were hundreds of web pages in the world - maybe even as many as 1,000! But there were absolutely no transgender based sites anywhere in the world.
So, I started the very first one. I put up my page with current writings, then added back issues of The Gender News. I learned how to program a picture into a web page, and how to center it. And the Transgender Support Site was born.
Within weeks after I launched it, others became so intrigued that they began to put up sites of their own. The Web burgeoned like a gold rush boom town, and by the end of that year, there were tens of thousands of web pages in the world, and a solid handful of transgender ones as well.
But, I will always be proud that I created the very first transgender support web site in history.
This, then, began a parallel journey of my own quest to understand myself, obtain surgery, and cope with the aftermath, and my efforts to build an online opus - a unique journal documenting a personal quest that an increasing number of others sought to join.
At times I was heavily involved, a leader in the community and arguably the most famous transsexual in the world. At other times, I recoiled from the community, let my web site languish, and shunned the transsexual label to think of myself as just another woman and to try and enjoy the simple life, the average life of normality.
Yet through it all, I never removed my work from the internet. And through it may have aged at times, in between facelifts and updates when I was so motivated, literally millions of individual people have visited my pages over the years.
Some are transsexuals in search of guidance. Others are the curious. Some are just lecherous "Trannie Sharks" looking to get off. I have no control over who walks through these doors.
But, from emails and letters I received over the years, regardless of the overall value of this site in the current world in which personal journals and support for transsexuals abound, my work here has had positive benefit for many, and eased their journey toward self-knowledge.
What now? Well for me, as an artist, I know the central theme of all that I create is to document in one form or another what I see as I travel through my unique life path. No two people take the same exact road, nor should they, for each person is, after all, an individual.
But I have often been first, or at least one of the few, to explore certain realms. And by so doing, my limited course through those worlds casts some illumination over the general terrain, and makes it easier for those who follow to find their own way.
Like Daniel Boone, I seem to always be one of the pioneers, always opening up a new frontier. I hang out, enjoy the experience out in the wild. But, inevitably, lured by my tales of the brave new world, or simply finding it on their own, others move in around me. They build solid roads, lay out new communities, and raise towns where once there was only forest.
And like Mr. Boone, finding myself growing uncomfortable as I become surrounded by the crowds and the ever encroaching niceties of civilization, I pack it up, and move on, heading deeper into the woods until I can no longer hear the sounds of construction behind me.
After publishing the first transgender diary, I moved on. Recently I published the first account of a loved-one as their lover goes through Feminizing Facial Surgery (FFS). I ended that journal (my first additions to my diary in ten years) and moved on again.
And now, I'm here - writing this new missive - Journey's End. What's it all about? What is this new land I'm trying to open up?
When I first started out, there were absolutely no long-term post-ops to be found, and precious few newly post-op folk. Post-op people seemed to hang around for a few months to a few years and then just sort of fade away. No one wrote much about it, they just became less frequent contributors until you realized one day you hadn't heard anything from them in a while and their most recent email address no longer worked.
I guess it was the dream of most of us in those days to get through the process and then embark on a normal life on the other side. And for those of us of a philosophical bent, we felt that unlike being gay, transsexualism was something to get through. The goal was not to admit to being a transsexual and the march in TS Pride parades. The goal (for the M2F) was to truly and fully become a woman like any other. And since women (in general) don't hang around the TS community and think all day about TS issues, we wanted to leave all that behind as well.
Of course, these days, there's a whole TS Pride movement, and many people identify themselves as a Third Sex. They don't want to become women, or more accurately, then want to be TS women, and see themselves as already having achieved that before genital surgery. The feel they were born transgendered and that is a rare and wonderful thing to be.
But, in my day, none of that had even started to happen yet. So, we usually drifted away from the community, let friendships grow cold, and faced our world as the women we were meant to be.
Only it didn't work like that. We discovered that although we might go days or even weeks without once thinking about transsexuality, suddenly we'd find ourselves one day grappling with some new issue that grew out of our past. We'd wrestle with it on our own, feel that we had failed at getting through, lament that we seemed to be unable to escape, and frustrated, perhaps even terrified that perhaps we would never be able to leave it behind and truly and finally become women like any others.
Some of us (not me, but others with whom I'm familiar), came back to the community. We re-established connections, joined in the sense of at least having a group with whom we could wholly identify, rather than feeling barred from the sorority of women. We justified it to ourselves by mentoring those "further behind" on the path - then side stepped egotism by proclaiming that we weren't really farther along, just in a different place, and sharing that point of view might help illuminate the road for others.
Many got stuck there, never ever able again to leave and face the world without that support network of "fellow" transsexuals. Some are still there to this day.
Others tried to outrun their pasts by going completely undercover, "stealth" as it is called, and might go so far as to marry and establish community ties as women, never revealing the truth of their earlier days, and claiming that the reason they had no photographs of their younger years was due to a tragic fire in which all the family albums were lost.
Once or twice, a long-term stealth individual has resurfaced. I've come across them because they went onto the internet to see if there were other long-timers with whom they might commune, a sort of half-way house for half-breeds, neither transsexual nor women, those who pass completely and are unknown to all (but perhaps a few) close friends, and yet crave an understanding ear, a compatriot soul with whom they might, converse, commune, or at least commiserate.
From my own experiences with these women, they seemed to protest too much that their lives were Cinderella stories. And behind the proclamations of true and complete fulfillment there seemed to lurk a dark corner in which they refused to look - a sense that they were always play-acting, always hiding from the "truth" they could not chance anyone else knowing.
They struck me as feeling that they were living a lie as much as they did before embarking on transition in the first place. They had traded one closet for another.
Faced with my own similar dilemmas, I have worked in places where everyone knew from the start. I have gone back to college and passed completely, but felt I needed to reveal myself in a talk in front of my psychology class. I have joined bowling leagues, both mixed, and women only, and felt not quite like the other women who struck me as mostly overweight, over the hill, beaten-down house fraus and workwomen, who don't actually like bowling so much as they desperately needed a place to get away from their husbands, who were suffocating them, to grab a breath for free air for a few hours and then try to hold it until next week.
I could not relate to these women at all. And though they accepted me, I always wondered if they suspected I had been (was?) transsexual, or if it were just that my free-thinking woman-of-the-world self-made career woman attitude was foreign to them, perhaps abhorrent, or at least an abrasive reminder of just how dull and meaningless they had let their lives become.
The woman I live with shares a similar path as mine. In all honesty, we probably move through the world as women without ever causing suspicion as to our origins. Yet, we each suffer the same fear that we will be found out, and even after all these years, constantly look for signs that we may have been "clocked" and compare notes after day trips and business ventures as to our personal concerns and whether or not we observed any undue attention paid to the other from our point of view.
What a way to live!
Well, its not as bad as all that. In fact, as mentioned before, there will be days or even weeks where the notion of transgenderism doesn't even enter our minds. Honest to gosh, it is like that for stretches at t time. It is as if it never happened.
But then, some event or some odd tendril of thought will trigger a remembrance of those issues, and we re-open the never-resolved consideration of that dilemma all over again.
Still and all, unless you have made mentoring and supporting the TG community your vocation, for the long-term post-op, life has become filled with many activities and experiences typical of any human being, and gender issues, most of the time, become relegated to the same level of priority and importance they would with any ordinary member of the general populace.
What is that life like, the life of the long-term post-op who doesn't really associate with the community? That's what Journey's End is all about.
I wish such a publication was available when I was starting out. I wish it had been around during all the intervening years. But when I search the web, all I find are home pages for people who are either still active in the community, militant transgenderists (and proud of it!), or those few poor souls that seem to be saying by the content of their web sites, "Look how successful I've been at living a normal life after sex reassignment surgery!"
The only fool is a man on a mountain who calls himself a Master.
Therefore, you will not find me pontificating that I have reached the end of my journey and having done so, am now entitled to pass judgment on all that lays behind and below me, and that my words are of more import than yours.
Naw, I'm just here as the self-proclaimed artist, documenting what I see from where I am in the joy of sharing and the hope others may find it useful or at least entertaining.
I'll be publishing a new edition of Journey's End every month or so. No specific deadlines - I hate deadlines - and at this point in my life and career, they hold no sway over me. In each issue I'll be including whatever considerations may have intruded on my mind since the last issue in regard to gender issues. But I'll also be presenting the other elements that make up the bulk of my life and more accurately report what life is like for at least this one long-term post-op.
Perhaps, someday, I'll lose interest entirely in transgenderism and no longer be even rarely assaulted by my own past. If so, I'll likely write a farewell statement and close this web site to new material forever. But, if my own history over the last fourteen years has taught me anything, it would be that it seems one cannot truly escape one's past, but that the flow of years constantly repositions one's past in the contest of all that transpired, demoting the importance of some things or even of some whole realms, and elevating the importance of others.
I have no innate desire to hang on to anything transgendered. I really wish I could put it all behind me. I no longer revel in a sense of pride at what I accomplished, how I managed to arrive at the magical place, grab the brass ring, or bring home the grail.
The goals, after all, are peace, contentment, and happiness. And if transgender aspects are required to be included for those goals to be achieved, then they will be warmly embraced.
Would I rather be unhappy but successful in eliminating transgender issues from my life, or would I rather be happy but still have to include them. Life is too short. Rationalizations are too vain. I'll take happiness, if the choice is mine to make. And gender can be a part of that or not as it chooses.
And so I'll close for now. I had no idea what I wanted to say in this editorial when I first began to write it several hours ago. But now I know what I needed to say: That life as a long-term post-op is not at all what I expected it to be. I would have valued a glimpse into that world. Being here, I can provide that glimpse for others. And perhaps by honestly sharing what it's really like over the rainbow and through the woods, I may come to understand the context of my own existence a little better, and perhaps even find some closure of my own.
Melanie is a prolific author,
teacher, theorist, and successful businesswoman.
She is also the founder of the
first Transgender Forum on America Online
and the creator of the world's very first Transgender Support Web Site.
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