Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Saying goodbye to it all

Exactly one month from now I will be in the operating theatre getting fixed. Just one month ahead. Being February, that means just four weeks. It'll fly by.

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:

ULYSSES

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,
They said.

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:

THE MISFIT

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.

8 comments:

  1. Not sure I understand it when you say: "And I will be not a woman per se, not even someone who can successfully live as a woman" ?
    Surely you've already socially transitioned ?
    Before my surgery, I became very contemplative. Christmas was 2 weeks beforehand, and xmas day spent in a solitary fashion with S, up a hill :-)
    All very moving stuff really.
    My analysis was that my hormonal balance changed *everything* in that period. It was very gradual. Almost unoticable, but totally changed the way I thought. Oh to go into such major surgery with a good hormonal balance! I went into it in the *worst* frame of mind imaginable.
    You are who you are IMHO. You are changing some physical sex characteristics, which will no doubt bring an enhanced sense of *belonging* and *rightness*.
    A proportion of masculinity and femininity is present in us all, I for one am comfortable with that.
    But you are a woman :-)

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  2. You know, Nicky, I can't help remembering all the years - decades - that passed before I discovered my true nature. And in all that time nobody else saw it either. Not even those closest to me, who might well have claimed with good reason that they knew me inside out. They were so shocked when I came out.

    It all makes me think that at any given stage, one's self-knowledge is woefully incomplete. And also that telepathy doesn't exist: if it did, my mind (and self-knowledge) would be an open book to everyone.

    What some people have actually said to me makes me think that in they might be projecting their own personal needs, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, fears and anxieties onto me - and then asserting that I own them or suffer from them! Have you had to put up with that? I wouldn't be surprised if you had. I believe it's a recognised (and not terribly unusual) way for people to behave.

    Lucy

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  3. I did not approach my surgery this way, but they you and I are different people. I seem to have less of a connection with my past, which isn't necessarily a good thing. I don't remember thinking about it that deeply either. I was purposely keeping my expectations low, not wanting to think that surgery was going to work some miracle on me. I worked through some serious anxiety about three weeks before I left for Montreal, the last gasp of doubts, I think. By the time I went, calm prevailed, and I knew I was ready.

    I don't know if low expectations were a good idea, but the result certaily far exceeded my expectations. It changed me more than I ever thought it would, in the best ways possible. I had thought I was already "there," but for me at least, surgery made a much bigger difference than I had ever dreamed.

    I wish you the best during your next month and beyond!

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  4. @Ariel:
    I can't escape my past and wouldn't want to. It must in some way 'explain' how I now am, and needs exploration from time to time. But life moved in only one direction: forwards. One's eyes need to be fixed on the future, which will always come, and dwelling on the past is not the way to face urgent new and novel challenges.

    @the CFG:
    I am concerned with my gender status only in so far as I need to be something clear and definite for social purposes. I value being 'officially' female, and will be pursuing my Gender Recognition Certificate; but you can't persuade me that I'm physically any more 'female' than I used to be, apart from a few superficial changes. Mentally I haven't changed either: it's simply that some things that were dormant or under-developed have now revealed themselves.

    Perhaps, taken as a whole, I'm now a rather different animal, with a different approach to life; but I haven't gone through a metamorphosis like a caterpillar does, and emerged as a butterfly.

    I sense that you will disagree, but I'm not trying to persuade you to my view, only to assert what I feel about myself. And, after all, I should know best how I am.

    Lucy

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  5. Ask for the old paths ...and walk therein

    I like the idea of revisiting the past. Places will already seem different - as they did for me when I visited my old school and realized how tiny everything was - but in a few short weeks they will change irredeemably.

    It's not every TS lady who thinks as you do. Some can't wait to draw a line under what's past, but you're not like that. Some of what you revisit will cause you pain, but there is much that was wholesome and it's good to affirm that.

    I grew up in a 24-bedroom hotel. On the day that mum and dad moved out I went round, standing quietly in every room, taking photos and recalling what I could of childhood memories. It was the last chance and I'm glad I took it. The building is still there, but much changed, and it isn't ours any more.

    So enjoy your 'Janus moments', dear friend! After this, there will be only one way to travel.

    Hugs,
    Angie x

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  6. Very interesting post - I loved the poetry especially.

    Lucy, you do not live an unexamined life! it's good.

    I am currently reading Whipping Girl by Julia Serano. Very thought provoking, do you know it?

    Like you, no one guessed my secret before I shared it. I was self aware from a childhood age but until the age of 39 (when I came out) I only probably told about 10 to 15 people over a 30 year span. When everybody was told, people including (and mist notably) those that had known me for years were shocked and surprised. For some, it threw a real spanner in the works.

    Transition (your butterfly comment)... Since having FFS, I have realised that transion in certain ways is an immediate thing but in others it's very gradual and evolves in steps. To use an analogy: two spaces divided by a tunnel and you are moving from space A to space C. As you enter the tunnel, transion occurs.

    Things have changed but not everything has changed.

    As you come out of the tunnel and into space C, more will have changed again.

    That is how I am finding each facet of my evolution:

    •Coming fully out ahead of medication and living publically as a woman without HRT.
    •introduction of medication.
    •FFS

    Each time, the world has reacted in a new way to me and I have experienced my own adjustment to that reaction. I am sure that my my vocal surgery and SRS will be new steps again.

    I suppose in the case of SRS, it will be you initially who I intereracts differently with the world because you feel differently about yourself (after all there is no visible change to the world's eyes but your change will cause the world to respond to you differently from before though it may be subtle too.

    Out of interest: since you are 4 weeks away, have you stopped medication? If so, are you feeling any effects from that?

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  7. @Victoria:
    My post was really intended to be a reflection on my wider life, not so much a statement of whether I will truly 'be a woman', which was bit The Candyfloss Girl chiefly picked up on. I see life as a continuum, and my transition as merely taking it in a fresh direction, albeit finally the right one at last. But it will still be the same life.

    I used not to question my life much, but of course in this stage of it you do quite a lot. And, as Angie suggested, it can help to revisit the scenes of the past, and ponder on such things as old photos. I never understood why people would not take pictures of all aspects of their life as it passed. I do so obsessively, because I want to remember clearly how it was. And for me, throwing away old photos - one's memories - is the ultimate mistake, even the ultimate crime.

    But as I said to Ariel, life is lived forwards, and you must go with it. The past informs, but it doesn't necessarily have the answers to new situations. And certainly not to what lies ahead for you and me!

    Coming off the hormones has made my boobs shrink - or is that because of the dieting? - but I can't detect any other effect. No mood swings or hot flushes yet. I just feel the same: cool, clear-thinking, in control. But then I've arranged my life for minimum stress. If you have no family responsibilities, for instance, you can be very serene indeed. I know that many others are not so fortunate.

    Lucy

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