Reflections of a fourteen year post-op
Welcome to my life....
Windows of Gold
My Grandmother's favorite story was called "Windows of Gold." She told it to me many times while I was a child. It begins in a small village, nestled in a valley, where a young man is dissatisfied with his mundane existence in the sleepy town. But every evening, after his work in the fields is done, he looks up to the mountain where another town clung to the cliffs. He was always transfixed, for every window in that magical, far-off berg had windows of gold.
All of his life, he had yearned to make the arduous journey up from the valley to that wonderful place, and to see the windows of gold for himself. One morning, he could stand his ordinary life no more, dropped his plow, and set off to climb the mountain.
It took him all day to make the ascent. At times he was tempted to give up and return to the safety of his home. But as the afternoon wore on, his eye caught reflections of those windows of gold, and he found the strength to continue.
The lad finally reached his destination just as the last rays of the sun were fading below the horizon behind him. And there were the windows of gold! But what was this? No sooner had he finally seen his tantalizing goal up close but their spectacular color was ebbing away.
And as the sun finally set, he realized: these were just ordinary windows, the same as those in his own village. They were simply reflecting the afternoon sun when seen from down in the valley.
Dejected, he fell into a troubled sleep.
The following morning, he awoke, and turned to make the long journey back. But he stopped in his track in disbelief. There, down in the valley, in his own town, every home had windows of gold - reflections from the rising sun. With renewed strength and a smile born of understanding and peace of heart, he cheerfully set about his descent down to his home and its windows of gold.
I always liked this story because it has a happy ending. The similar concepts of "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence," or the story of the dog who drops his bone to grab at the one reflecting in the pond, both end in personal loss. Whereas "Windows of Gold" is more like the Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy comes to realize that she had actually always possessed that which she had left home to find, and happily returns home to embrace it.
Okay, what's that have to do with the post-op life? Well, I'll tell you. I had this experience the other day, and afterward, the Windows of Gold story came to mind as the best framework with which to explain it.
Here's the gist....
When you are first starting out in transition, you are so focused on becoming something, you set goals and milestones, and use every interaction as a means of evaluating how you are doing - how far along the path you have come.
Year by year, you feel you are becoming more and more like other women, even while trying to hold onto some sense of identity and also carve out a unique role as an individual in this brave new world.
If you are a philosopher, you realize you can't become something just by being as it is, but only by also NOT being like it ISN'T. In other words, you have to shed any aspects of yourself that shouldn't be there if you had actually been born "this" way.
In time, you find that some of what you perceive as normal female reactions are inherent in you - that in fact, aspects of yourself that come naturally are female and not male. More strongly, no male of the species ever possessed such built-in traits, and you previously had spent your whole life trying to hide them.
For example, I always used to cross my legs a certain way at the ankle whenever I'd sit down at a diner counter or a bar stool. But I recognized that men just didn't do that. So, each time I'd sit down (in my previous incarnation) I'd have to forcibly remind myself to uncross my legs and keep them that way. Yep, no matter how much I tried to avoid doing it, it always happened without thinking, and I could do no more than set up a mental trigger to notify me when it did so I could undo it, hopefully before anyone noticed.
But, in transition, part of the job is to disable all those various triggers so that you can simply let your natural feminine means of expression out into the world. Problem is, you spent so many years trying to subdue these traits that you can't just let yourself go. You keep noticing how you do things "female" now. And even though it comes from something natural deep inside you, it doesn't go unnoticed.
Unfortunately, this leads to taking a "third person" perspective of your own thoughts and actions. You find yourself becoming an observer of your own life rather than a participant. Everything is analyzed, collated, and cross-referenced. You don't feel things directly anymore, you just have feelings about your feelings. You become separated from yourself, and life takes on a surreal quality, much like being a "sleeper" agent in deep cover.
If you are lucky, you reach a catharsis moment in which you are able to finally drop that protocol and to truly express yourself as you really are. You spend so much of your life hiding the real you, then you spend so many years approximating it, that to find that key that will unlock the door and open the floodgates to let your actual spirit flow forth unrestrained, well, it isn't likely.
I've only met a handful of people in my life who were lucky enough or able enough to find that way. As for me, I was fortunate in being shown the way by my life partner, Teresa, some eight months ago.
Teresa had just undergone feminizing facial surgery, wherein a world-renowned surgeon completely altered the bones of her face, forehead, and jaw to sculpt them, grind them, break and reset them into a wholly female pattern.
About a month before the procedure, she had found her way to express her true inner self. She knew how much femininity she had inside, but had always held back in showing it to the world because she also knew that with the masculine features of her face, that kind of behavior would simply not have "played."
But knowing that she had a firm surgery date, had paid for the bill in advance, and that it was all really going to happen, this essentially "authorized" her (in her own mind) to begin expressing the personality she had always sequestered away.
Somehow, when we know we are committed to a course of action, we can often begin acting as if the action has already been completed.
And so, Teresa, just for a few minutes at a time at first, began to show me her true self - an amazingly soft and feminine soul. She was embarrassed at first. It was almost excruciating for her to bare even to me in the privacy of our own home, her feminine heart. This was her most delicate part - the area in which she was most vulnerable. This was her soul of souls, and if damaged, it would never recover no matter how she came to look as a result of the surgery.
But she trusted in me and our eight year relationship, and I responded to her not as she appeared but as she would soon appear, and honored the truth of her revelation.
As the days counted down to her surgery, she opened up more often and for longer periods at a stretch. But still, she could not do it in front of others - just me.
During this time I had been terribly afraid that I would be left behind. I now could see the magnitude of her female self, and soon she would be made to be soft and beautiful of countenance as well.
When I was much younger, I looked pretty damn fine myself. I had no problems "passing" but out of fear, I could never bring myself to just let my heart shine. And then, years and weight and unsurity took their toll, and I found in recent years that I had more and more trouble passing when I previously had none at all.
So, seeing Teresa's newfound ability to let loose, coupled with her upcoming magical transformation, I was as depressed as I had ever been. And yet, such is her love for me, that even just four days after surgery, just two days from leaving the hospital, bandaged fully about the head and in great pain, Teresa reached out to me and showed me how to tap into the honest nature of my Id.
I'm still not sure how she did it, but while we lay in bed, I could sense the strength that had appeared in her, knowing that now the outside finally matched the inside, and almost because of how she would look when she healed, she was entitled, perhaps even required to act as she always had been in her heart.
And with that strength came a power and a moment. And she used that power to reach out to me, and pull me in there with her. For me, it was as it had been for her a month earlier. At first, I could only keep my heart fully open for just a few minutes at time. But as her healing progressed and as the days passed, I also came to express myself more often and for longer stretches until one day, I simply never closed it down.
Now, Teresa and I both work out of our home, contributing to my internet businesses. So we had a luxury not afforded most, wherein we could essentially hideaway until we were ready to face the world.
During this time, at first I became increasingly depressed. For I realized that with my current face, I no longer passed, yet Teresa did from the moment she left the hospital. Though she was swollen, she looked like a swollen woman, not a man, and would never even be able to look like a man again should she even have wanted to.
While it was appropriate for her, therefore, to act according to her true feminine nature, my look no longer allowed it. In other words, when I was young and passable, I had not yet found a way to let my true self out. And now that I finally had, I no longer looked the part.
This, of course, caused great pain and suffering. So, I made my own appointment with the doctor to change one feature that I believed would affect my entire facial appearance - I had my upper lip pulled up into a nice bow shape, giving me that "open-mouth" look which I find so appealing and feminine in women.
Now, those starting out might see the need for making physical changes in order to express oneself as a crutch or justification. After all, if you are forced to live for a couple of years in the preferred gender role before qualifying for SRS, then you need to muster the courage to act in a way contrary to your current look in order to proceed.
But here's a little secret for you all. There are some maladies of the heart which cannot be resolved from within. They can only be brought to equity by changing one's environment to match the heart's desire. Just as no amount of personal expression is a substitute for having SRS, there are some mental states that cannot be achieved without adjusting one's physical situation to enable it.
Once my surgery was complete and healing had taken place, I found myself ready to try my new more honest way of expressing myself in the real world, not just in the safety of our home. Teresa, whose healing would take several more months due to the far more extensive and radical procedures, would not be ready to take that step for several more months.
But I went out in the world and tried it at the supermarket. And lo and behold, I was not laughed at. I was not stared at. On the contrary, I was more openly accepted by women and more naturally treated by men than I ever had been before.
I was aghast - this could not be! How could they not see how foolish I was? How could they not find the juxtaposition of my means of expression and my appearance to be ludicrous?
Still, I persisted. I tried it at more and more places. And when Teresa felt ready to venture out with me, she did so using her tried and true persona from years past. She still did not have the courage to express herself as she had come to with me at home, least she get be ridiculed, and thereby forced to admit that all her pain and suffering through facial surgery had been for naught.
Do not many of us hold back from visiting a doctor least our symptoms turn out to be something serious? We would rather hide in the possibility that we might be healthy than to run the risk of potential certainty that we are doomed. And so it was for Teresa - better to not try showing herself than to run the risk of invalidating all she had recently suffered and being stuck with the unavoidable knowledge that, having done all that was medically possible, she would never be accepted as the woman she knew herself to be inside.
And so, while Teresa fell easily into her practiced "butch" role, I experimented with my new one. Often I would return with her to the car after we visited some business or store and ask her, "Did I really just act like that in front of those people? And did they really actually buy into it? How can this be?"
As my excursions progressed, I came to mention to Teresa that I felt so differently inside, as if I had an emotion transplant from a born female. I said it was almost like being possessed by a different soul, a female spirit, that was gentler and more feminine that anything I had ever experienced. I actually came to think of myself as if I was the spirit that had possessed this body, having kicked the former male resident out.
This was magnitudes beyond anything I had felt in transition or in the fourteen years of post-op experience that followed. This was completely new. This was the kind of thing that any pre-ops or newer post-ops would see as bullshit, self-aggrandizement, or delusional. And yet, here it was. The feeling was real, the emotions were real.
I eventually understood that in my attempts to hide my natural feelings and behavior for so many years before transition, I had ceased to know my own heart. And as much as this was hidden from me, I thought that the persona I created, first as a male, and then as a new female, was the true nature of what it felt like to be me.
But then, this revelation, triggered by Teresa in the midst of her pain, and then the surgery that provided the physical context that allowed me to venture forth. And finally, the ongoing experiences as I tried out the unexpected self I had discovered inside. All of these combined to create a feeling in which I no longer thought of myself as a transsexual.
I came to realize that finally I now had succumbed to thought patterns that were identical to a natural born female, no longer just the approximations of a highly successful transsexual.
And with this realization came a gap which I now felt between me and almost every transsexual I had ever met. I found myself noticing how differently I now thought than they did. But at the same time, I saw that I had lost my specialness. No longer was I one of the most successful and believable transsexuals ever, but rather, I was just another woman of some degree of achievement.
In one stroke, I now saw women as "us" and transsexuals as "them."
But the final stroke had yet to fall. Just the other day, it occurred to me that though I was unaware of this deeper self until recently, it was still the core of my psyche. It was my actual nature that I have had since before birth, and all means of expression that had been layered upon it, even obscured it, were simply personas, not person.
And therefore, every thought I have ever had, every emotion I have ever felt are female thoughts and emotions. I never actually transitioned in any way other than physically and in learning who I really was underneath it all. But that inner self was always female.
So, if you had dropped a female mind into a male body, she would still think as a woman, though she would eventually learn to think like a man. This was the opposite of who I had thought I was. I though I was a man who yearned to be a woman and had many female and feminine traits to my mind. But it turns out I was a woman all along.
And every thought I had that I believed to be male in nature, and my career, and my marriage, and my children, and my friends, and my relationships, and my hopes and my dreams, and the way I solve problems, and the way I analyze, and my logic, and my outlook, and my priorities - these were always female, even when I thought of myself as a male.
If I had never explored my gender and had stuck with the male life, all my thoughts and feelings would still have been female for all of my life. The experience of becoming a woman was false - you can't become what you already are. I will never understand the way men think. As confusing as they seemed to me in my childhood, I always thought of myself as one of them - a defective one, but a man nonetheless.
But I never thought like them, even when I thought I did.
So if every consideration and experience I have ever had is a female one. Then I have really accomplished nothing more than to recognize, like Dorothy, that I already had at home what I had been searching for.
In short, what I thought was something to which I aspired was something I already was and always had been. And looking back from the mountain I see that my home in the valley which I left so long ago has Windows of Gold.
And this pissed me off! Unlike the fellow in the story, I didn't contentedly crawl back down that flippin' mountain to once more pick up my plow. Rather, I was livid that I had spent so many years climbing just to find nothing more than I had already, if I'd only been enlightened enough to realize it.
Well, that anger passed in time. And once receded, it left behind a calm. I guess I just finally admitted to myself that I really was a woman, rather than as I had spent the last 50 years denying it.
I had thought I was a flawed boy, then a man with a fantasy, then a transsexual. And what is a transsexual? It is an individual who changes his or her sex. And what do we mean by "sex" in this context. That one alters the body to shift from one configuration to another. That's all a transsexual is, and everything about "being a woman trapped in a man's body" or believing one's mind to be female doesn't impact that. It might justify it in some quarters or help one get through transition, and it might even be true, but if a man with a man's mind had SRS, he'd be a transsexual as much as a being with a male body and a female mind who has SRS.
As you might expect, I've met a whole shit load transsexuals over the years. And honest to God, ninety-nine percent of them are men. Well, not physically male anymore, but still just as male of mind as any other dude cat roving the world at large. Before SRS they were men. Afterward, they sure aren't women. But they are transsexuals. And that's all they'll ever be, no matter how many years or decades since they rearranged the plumbing.
But what if there is another category beyond transsexualism in which a few individuals are more properly catalogued. What if it is wrong to ever classify those rare ones with actual female minds who are born into male bodies and have SRS as transsexuals. What if they are just women with one honking physical birth defect. And what if they have nothing in common with the common transsexual other than the surgeries they both will have.
There are women born into the world normal in all respects except they do not have vaginas. In fact, such a problem is not as rare as one might think. There are medical programs and procedures at many major hospitals that treat this affliction with surgery.
No one thinks of these women as men who have sex change surgery, for they do not have penises or any other male or masculine qualities. Rather, they simply are lacking something other women have. And the surgery corrects this.
Now, a woman born into a fully functional male body may or may not know her mind. But as stated above, that does not change the nature of her mind. Still, when she decides to pursue becoming a woman, she does not realize she really is already one. No, she sees herself as a man who wants to be a woman, or quips that she is a woman trapped in a man's body - but though she may, through her considerations, have come to actually believe that, she may very likely not feel it.
She has put so many barriers up over the years to block her natural tendencies from becoming known in the outside world that she no longer sees them herself. And so, her manufactured persona feels to her like other men feel to her, even though deep inside she knows she is not like other men.
Other women know nothing of her situation. Men cannot conceive of it. And so, she discovers the transsexual community and finds so many surface similarities that she buys into being one of them.
After all, she has learned to get by in the world of men, often is extremely masculine in manner, and believes she has to learn how to be a woman. But in truth, under her own perceptions of herself is a mind that works in a totally female fashion. And she really shares no common ground with the vast masses of those men who want to wear female bodies through surgery.
You see, you can't be both a woman and a transsexual. There's no such thing as a Transsexual Woman. A woman is a woman, and that has nothing to do with the body she wears. It has nothing to do with how femininely or masculinely she presents herself. She is a woman because of the way her mind works, independent of her upbringing, training, cultural indoctrination, self-image, or attempts to cast herself in a particular mold.
It is that mind that primarily binds her to other women and separates her irrevocably from the male of the species. And it is that mind I have finally accepted, against my own passionate protestations.
It was Teresa's help that allowed me finally to see what I felt like under all the protections and sub-routines I had installed over the years. For me, I passed so well after SRS, but it was only because I created a whole new set of behaviors and blended them into a female persona just as false as the male one I used to wear.
But under it all, my mind was always female, whether I knew it or believed it or not.
So, I disavow being a transsexual. I reject kinship with the vast majority of those who have sex change surgery who are of male mind. Though I have met hundreds of transsexuals. I can count those who are really women on one hand. I am one of them, and I live with another.
And now, I can finally settle down in the knowledge that while others may classify me along with the droves of men who alter their bodies and act like women, I have nothing in common with them. I am the same woman I've always been since conception. And though others may see my windows as glass just like the rest, I've been to the mountain top and back, and I know the windows in my house really are made of gold.
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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