From now on, I'll be saying goodbye to the old world. For make no mistake, the surgery will I'm sure completely transform my self-perception. I will be physically changed, and the knowledge of it will make me see myself, and my place in the world, in a different way. I will still look rather like the old person, and probably always will, but I will have entirely new possibilites to embrace, the sort that come when living is put on a fresh basis. For many things that the old person did, or was expected to do, or be, will now be in the dustbin. Irretrievably. And so in these last few weeks I will be examining my past life, revisiting places that meant much to me, visiting them as Lucy, but also at the same time as Julian. Because I simply won't be able to go there in the same frame of mind after the op, and I want to ponder how it might feel if, for instance, my parents were still alive, and I had them in the car with me, and we were able to discuss my life without censure, and had the chance to reminisce and consider what lies behind and ahead, and weigh it all up, like the Irish Airman in Yeats' famous poem. You know the one. I believe he wrote it in 1918:
AN IRISH AIRMAN FORSEES HIS DEATH
I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.
If that seems too morbid, and I certainly don't take such a bleak vision of the future, there are other more hopeful poems and passages from poems that I might recall. Such as this one, by Lord Tennyson in 1842, the tail end of a poem about Ulysses the Greek hero:
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
I intend to spend many solitary moments in thought, weighing myself up, thinking of the past and the future. Do you, did you, ever do that? How were things for you? Were you wanting, deficient, perplexed, or did you never think about it? And if in my situation now, how will you feel? How will you find that balance?
I always used to think of myself as a human being first, a person second, and a boy or a man in particular very much as a third. The first two roles were fine; but I always felt awkward living up to expectations as a male person, and although I wasn't especially odd or eccentric (though I admired people who were, who insisted on their individuality) I did feel very idiosyncratic, definitely not one of the crowd.
Sometimes I felt I was very far from the mainstream, that nobody understood me or ever would. Stevie Smith's well known poem about the drowning man often seemed to be about me. Maybe it was about you too:
NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.
Or this, penned by yachtsman Donald Crowhurst in 1969 when killing time in the Atlantic, before his mind gave way from the terrible stress of faking a round-the-world voyage, engaged in a challenge that his boat was not equal to, locked into a deception that appalled him, that gave him the certain chance of an unworthy win, the glare of worldwide fame, and a prize he could not accept and still live with himself. He too was always 'too far out' all his life. This short poem was about a seabird that kept him company for a while, that fascinated him. The bird battled against the Atlantic wind, far from land, with no hope of getting anywhere, but it would not give up. The Misfit was also of course Crowhurst himself:
Save some pity for the Misfit,
Fighting on with bursting heart;
Not a trace of common sense,
His is no common flight.
Save, save him some pity.
But save the greater part
For him that sees no glimmer
Of the Misfit's guiding light.
I retreated from the strains of such uncomfortable situations by regarding myself in a detached way, as an androgynous person of good character and amiable disposition. I felt of neither sex really, apart from the obvious superficial physical differentiation that I had to live with and couldn't totally ignore. But this pose didn't work. It made me a nothing. Frankly I think I cut a poor social figure. I wasn't anything in particular, I had no edge, and in oriental terms I lost face and other people's respect. And the detachment went too far. I felt alone in a parallel world that would never touch other people's lives, that I would never feel their triumphs and tragedies. That's it: I didn't feel, or had lost the ability, or had never found it, and was told so often enough. I believe it, that and any negativity thrown at me. Perhaps I didn't mind, didn't care, was resigned, and considered the numbness inevitable. And temperamentally I liked my own space, needed so much of it, had to have separation and distance to survive. But nothing was achievable. You need to integrate yourself into the world to find purpose and make an impact. How to do that, where to begin, eluded me for decades.
How transitioning has changed all this! It has brought back self-respect, self-esteem, a feeling of immense potential, it's empowered me, it's turned me into something definite, and I can look all others in the eye. Not with scorn or bravado; just with self-assurance. I have my detractors, and post-op there will be some bitter or sorrowful words directed at me, but I've found myself, and I'm breaking out of all former moulds. I'm going to pick up all the cards that I've got left, and play to win.
And I will be not a woman per se, not even someone who can successfully live as a woman, though I will, but the right version of myself: all I ever really wanted to be.