The Big Question and why ask it? First, about the questioner. I am not a doctor of any order, not a therapist and not on an epic journey. I am a high school dropout, ex-military functionary seeking only guidance on the path of least resistance. I was born in a house of cards and found myself so busy watching for the walls to come tumbling down that I got very little else done in the first fifty plus years of my time in this particular existence. Well, you can knock it if you want, but it’s kept me alive for nearly 60 years now, so something must be said for it.
I came from a military background. Like my father and my brothers before me I left home at 17 to become a soldier myself; it happened that I became that age in 1967, in America the beautiful. I turned 17 on February 10th and became a soldier on valentine’s day. So much for disposing of youth. By October I was in a commercial airliner approaching the landing strip near Da Nang, in the Republic of South Vietnam. Out my window I could see puffs of white smoke coming from the beautiful, lush hills overlooking the little valley where the strip lay. On the field were angry looking, cloudy grey puffs. It was almost surreal without sound. When the pilot came on the intercom and announced that “due to conditions on the ground we have been diverted to Bien Hoa Airfield” it didn’t much matter to me, I’d never heard of either of those places. But then as the plane gained altitude I got my very first sense of that house of cards I was born into, and the walls were cracking fast.
That’s the same sense I seemed to share with a lot of people on that plane on that day. If there were any other 17 year old waiver signers there I’d bet the same thought went through their heads as went through mine….”what the heck have I done now???” a house of cards. At any time, coming from anywhere it could all fall in and I’d be crushed. Couple that sense with a 17 year old testosterone producing machine and you come up with utter confusion. Invincible vulnerability.
Not to dwell on that experience for too long, but that does seem to be about the same time in my life that I took the initiative to head off down the path of least resistance. No matter how much testosterone I sweated in that desperate place there was never enough to make me want to emulate John Wayne again. I wanted a nice place to hide until the storm passed. By feigning intelligence I got myself a clerical job, keeping track of supplies for a company in the Airmobile Division. That may have been the last initiative I took until the mother of necessity kicked me out of the house again some thirty five years later.
I spent the next 23 years keeping track of supplies in one place or another for the US Army. It turned out to be a nice shelter from the storm and a place where one is never noticed, not even a ripple in the pond. But that house of cards….always there, always leaking and requiring maintenance. Always keeping me aware of how close is the storm and how fragile the shelter. When will someone find out and alert the whole world of the alien among them, the girl in drag. Shhhhh….don’t say anything, Keep quiet, stay small….don’t give them any hint of a person inside here….maybe they’ll just go away.
And so that sense of living in a house of cards is maybe the one thing I share with all those who live under the tg (transgender) umbrella. Most of us have kept a secret that, if revealed, might so well destroy our dignity and credibility in the world that we may never recover. A secret that has dirty, unnatural, sexually perverted connotations to it.
For transsexuals, I use that term in the way Dr. Benjamin used it to describe the condition of his patient, Christine Jorgensen, it is a 24/7 secret. We are always aware of the fact that we are not as we should be. There is not an erotic period where we can dress up, relieve ourselves and go back to business. It is not an aspect of our character, we don’t have a feminine “side”; we’re not two-spirited or wanderers on the gender continuum. W,e are, for the most part just normal, everyday, run-of-the-mill, garden variety women. If not for that pesky penis we’d be shaking our heads in wonder at all of this, just like everyone else.
For early onsets, myself, we knew we were girls as soon as we discovered there was a difference between boys and girls. We were caught shaking our heads at how everybody, it seemed, had it wrong but us. What could all these people be thinking? Of course I’m a girl, isn’t it obvious? Even those we loved and respected, our parents and siblings, the ones we trusted, the ones who cared for our needs and loved us, kept telling us we were boys. It didn’t make any sense..
Then we heard about that penis thing. Seems that was all there was to it: If one had a penis he was a boy, if she didn’t, then she was a girl. I had a penis, so I was a boy. Isn’t that about the nuttiest thing you ever heard of? It all came down to some appendage between my legs that I had to keep covered up all the time anyway. I wasn’t to show I was a boy by exhibiting what made me a boy, I had to demonstrate it in all these metaphorical ways. I had to play with cars and trucks instead of dolls and playhouses. I had to wear pants and shirts instead of pretty dresses. I had to look at pictures instead of listen to stories….and in my particular case, the one color I adored most, pink, was out of the question for anything. I couldn’t imagine why it came as a shock to people when I wanted to get rid of the penis. That was maybe the very first idea I ever had that was my own. I wasn’t mimicking or emulating anyone or anything in that, I just came up with the idea myself. Made perfect sense to me, if that was what made me live in metaphors I didn’t appreciate, then why not just cut it off and go about my business? That’s a story in itself, most transsexuals have such stories.
That idea went the same way as the other two or three original ideas I’ve ever had, into the crazy pot. After that very short period of my toddlerdom spent in abject rebellion, I learned that rebellion was unacceptable in modern life. I became a Yankee fan. I learned to play baseball with the boys, share cards and keep statistics. As long as I was doing that, I could demonstrate my non-rebellious nature to the world and be a good little boy. But….my heart was never in it. I was mediocre at best. Tra-la-la-la, though, a mediocre conformist is held in much higher esteem then a dedicated rebel. Fortunately too, being mediocre, nobody held out any high hopes or expectations for me. I just might survive this thing.
Ever notice how men have such short little attention spans? Always trying to impress the girls. It seems to them that even if they have no chance whatsoever of getting into your pants they can never let that be known. It’s a point of honor among them, they are driven. I know this because, as I’ve intimated, I was captured by their tribe as an infant and held captive for many years. I was raised among them, as one of them. I learned their secret handshake, the passwords to the clubhouse and the knowing grins they exchange. I can read them as a native. I’m not sure if that’s a blessing or a curse, but I’m awfully glad to have found my way home now, to my own kind.
There was another perk to being a soldier. I was among men all the time but was rarely the object of their sexual attraction. I’ve only recently learned what a monumental perk that actually was. But when I did get among women I was always at a loss. They generally liked me, I was a little odd, but I think I always seemed safe. Though I clearly wasn’t gay I still avoided the pretensions of the sexual chase. I just wanted to be with them, to share, to learn what being a woman was like from others of my own kind. I stayed a little girl for an awfully long time just out of ignorance. Of course not having a natural puberty left me way in the dark. I guess I was just as afraid they’d find out about me as I was that the men might. Women don’t like perverts any more then men…..
So in 1979 when I met a sweet young girl named Annie, I acted in the same old crazy way I always did. Stayed at arm’s length, nodded and agreed a lot and let her lead. I liked her very much immediately. She was terribly sweet, down to earth….about as unpretentious a person as I’d ever met. Oh, and cute as a button. We never actually went on a date, we just ran with the same crowd. We worked very closely, she was a civilian clerk at the same place I was a military clerk. I still think God had a lot to do with all that, but….that’s for another forum.
On only the second time I ever saw Annie alone, and embarrassed because even if I’d had a clue about how to sexually pursue her, I didn’t really want to, so I just up and told her about myself. I’m not sure of who was more shocked. Me, I think. It turns out that what I really knew about transsexualism could fit into a pamphlet and that made a set of encyclopedias compared to what she knew. Much later she told me that she thought it was just about liking to dress up and pretend you’re a girl. She said she didn’t have much of an opinion about that. At any rate, with the cat out of the bag and feeling like I wasn’t hiding for the first time since my early rebellion days, I went right ahead and fell in love with her. And, apparently she with me. We were married on January 23, 1980.
And the years passed, our love grew….but was never consummated in the “normal way.” I couldn’t, and she could live without it. We didn’t even explore it, just went along and got along. We were what each other had and that was enough. I retired from the army after Desert Storm, settled into our little hometown, did work for the church and existed. Annie existed with me. She is maybe the only person I have ever met on the earth who is endowed with the capacity for unconditional love. I mean UNCONDITIONAL. Everything I know about love, every feeling I associate with it I learned from her. For so many years the only feeling I had was my love for her. And now I have to go give her a hug and a kiss.
I guess when you find “the one” it really doesn’t matter what the gender is, love trumps it. When I was in Trinidad for my grs (genital reassignment surgery) I met a couple of young t-girls who were just madly in love, they were so cute! There was no way my spirits could get down with those two there, running in and out, making plans, making new plans, sneaking junk food in, and….well other things I guess I won’t talk about. She was a day ahead of me and made absolutely sure I knew everything that was going to happen ahead of time….almost like a big sister. God, love is sooooo beautiful! My sister and my niece were there as well, and until that point I was the only transsexual they’d ever met. I was very blessed to have them meet so my family could see that we’re just about like everybody else, some of us can even get a little goofy in love.
Speaking of love, I’d like to talk about my mother-in-law for a minute. Can you say hillbilly? Barboursville, Kentucky….right up on top of a mountain….they called it the hill but to a Hoosier it was definitely a mountain. And, boy, did she love her girl! “Tiny” my wife was called….maybe because she was so little bitty. I came into the picture pre-hated. Annie was 27, lived at home and was still mommy’s little girl. She’d had some pretty serious medical problems in her teenage years as a result of being hit by a car. I guess they got pretty close the year Annie was in the hospital and stayed that way. Mom was not at all pleased to see this young Yankee interloper come into the picture and stir everything up. I know she wished I’d just go away.
She was close to Annie but Annie was close right back. They were about as close as mother and daughter can get. I decided pretty early on that I had three options as to how I was going to deal with her. I could just go ahead and hate her back….I had every right. Or I could do my best to ignore her. Either of those options would do my Annie harm, so I came up with the third option, I would learn to love her as much as Annie did. I figured if I could pull that off all our lives would be much happier. It wasn’t easy but over time I came to some measure of success and mom, while she didn’t quite trust me, came to tolerate me….well, maybe even like me a little. I think she was always aware of the fact that there was something going on in me that wasn’t quite right. She didn’t know what it was but it did make her a little uneasy. About five years into the marriage we sat mom down and told her what it was. She didn’t have much to say about it, but she did seem to come to trust me a lot more after that. We all got along pretty well.
In 1998 mom had a heart attack. While she was on the table having open heart surgery she had a stroke. She lost all of her short term memory and no small amount of just general cognitive ability. When she left the hospital she was not in very good shape at all. Her doctor was honest with us, he was sending her home to die. She lived with me and Annie so we decided we would do our best to make her last days as happy and comfortable as we could. Since Annie worked full time and I only part time, I quit my job and stayed home with mom as her primary care giver. By the sixth year of her final days I had become pretty good at nursing. Mom and I spent our days together and became very close. It took no effort at all to love her now, and she trusted me more then anyone else on earth. I learned all about another kind of love, mature, objective love. It was on the day of her death, when she went home, I came face to face with my Maker. He came for her and revealed Himself to me. Ok, that’s for another forum too, but in the interest of the context I’m trying to create, it has to be said. I became absolutely sure there was a God, and Jesus was His son.
With this I was introduced to a new kind of morality. Not a tit for tat thing. Not like justice as we know it….an algebraic expression, when one side equals the other it’s all finished. A kind of morality that made me look outside of myself and my little world. I got put in context myself. That’s when the questioning began, the questions that led to the big question.
This new morality thing invaded nearly every compartmentalized little faction of myself. Most of everything, as seen in this new light, wasn’t all that complicated. Just give more than you take seemed to calm most of the selfish impulses in me. Not that I gave up selfishness, I just got to where I could recognize it in myself and mitigate its effects somewhat. It was the truth thing that got stuck in my evolution. At some point while all this new insight was pouring into me I came to the realization that the one thing I did best in the world was lie. I could lie with anybody. I was world class: If lying were an Olympic sport I’d be a shoo-in to medal, and favored for gold.
I can’t say this new insight made me real happy about myself, I could think of one or two things I might rather be remembered for. But, wow….I was good! I started lying as soon as I got up in the morning and put my pants on. I lied all day, and at night when I slept in my boy’s briefs I dreamed in full color lie. I had a long history, much real life experience with this….to my despair…. I realized it was even more than second nature, it was me….the real me. I had become what I’d practiced most….a living lie.
It was at about this time that my little sister decided it was time to bring me into the computer age. She was tired of having to keep in touch with me the old fashioned way, with a telephone. The rest of the family, all of them, communicated by email and IM. I stuck out and was single-handedly holding up progress in the Hanson family. I had resisted her earlier attempts at this: I wasn’t interested in learning something new and, frankly, I found even the telephone a little more intrusive then I would have liked. But one day she and my big brother showed up at the house with one of these things. Big brother is geeky as all get out. He lives and breathes computers. He doesn’t even speak English anymore, it’s some dialect of computerese that one can only pick up bits and pieces of. So drafting him to do the technical work was a piece of cake for her. They just moved in, rearranged this and that, and in no time there it was in my front room, hooked up and online. I even had an email address and instructions to check it several times a day…. Whatever.
Folks, you know it wasn’t long. You know that just about as soon as I learned what that Google thing up there was I typed in the magic word….transsexual. The world as I knew it no longer existed. The first thing I had to do was suck it up and get my brother over to clean up all the porn that suddenly appeared on my screen. I had no idea, I was overwhelmed with it….shemales….chicks with *****, the best porn sight on the web….you name it, if it was porn I had it. My brother got a good laugh, advised me that just because something says “click here” doesn’t mean you have to obey. You can just hit the little white x in the red box and it’ll go away. Thank you.
So, with the porn cleaned up and me back in control of the thing, I tried it again. This time I paid attention. I found out something that just simply blew my mind. Me and Christine Jorgensen were not the only ones. Not even close. In fact, that computer was just eat up with us. Everywhere I met people, affirming people, nice people, encouraging people. And I met some of the strangest people I could imagine. I learned about the tg community: apparently that’s what I was now….I was tg. “like the pine trees lining the winding road….I got a name….I got a name….and I carry it with me everywhere I go, if it gets me nowhere, I’ll go there proud.” it took me awhile to notice that I was talking to people on line who were tg too….and I wasn’t lying to them. I was telling the truth! I was sitting right there in front of God and everybody telling the truth just like I’d been doing it all my life. I was amazed. I started feeling all kinds of things, things I’d never felt, or even knew anyone felt. I felt like somewhere down inside me was a real person, some substance, something you could put your finger on. I fell in with a group of like-minded people, of course they all knew more than me, but somehow just not having to lie to them made me feel like one of them, like I belonged. Youbetcha, I made some good friends and I made them at the speed of a ten year old. You meet a kid in the morning and by afternoon you’re best friends. One friend in particular….I’ll call Susan….I got very close with. Our friendship couldn’t be contained on the computer screen, we had to meet in person.
She comes from northwestern PA. Her stomping grounds were in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t long before Annie and I drove out to meet her. We checked into a little motel and waited for Susan to come by. She did….and she was beautiful. She was in drab, as was I, but her smile gave away an inside that couldn’t be matched. She was just exactly the girl I’d fallen in love with online.
Susan was experienced in the tg world. She knew how to dress and do makeup and present herself in a feminine state. I knew nothing….I’d never dressed. Susan dressed me up in a little skirt and top, put a wig and some makeup on me and we, the three of us, went out to one of her favorite haunts. That night was unbelievable. We just sat at the bar and talked. Susan sat between Annie and I, and we just shared all night long. There was music in my ears. I had never felt like that. I know I wasn’t pretty, I even knew that everybody there thought I was a rather unaccomplished drag queen, but it didn’t matter. I felt like a real human being for the first time in my memory. I was REAL.
That night could have never ended and I wouldn’t have been mad. Its perfection was only limited by its brief life. It turned out that my Annie fell in love with Susan just as I had: And Susan felt the same about her. We were all in one place, one time and one explanation. And I was real. I went that whole evening without telling one lie. Not one! I was swimming in truth, drunk on honesty. When we did have to let it go, it was ok. It had been wonderful and left a strong aftertaste of promise behind. We all went back to the motel, hugged and kissed. Susan gave me the outfit I’d been wearing and went on off to her home up north. In the morning Annie and I drove back home to Indiana, still in the glow of truth and happiness.
I kept that little outfit. A short, full black print skirt that aged out at about 18 with a black low-cut top, sandal pumps, and a blonde wig. I knew I wasn’t done with that, just give me another opportunity and watch out! In the meantime Susan and I stayed in close contact. We really had become best friends. We talked forever on line….about any and everything. I had never even considered sitting down and talking about clothes. What did I know about style or even coordinating two colors? The uniform I’d worn in the army had been replaced by an equally drab civilian uniform. But, as it turned out, I was a quick study. Susan taught and I learned. It was fun, even exhilarating at times. And it was honest. It was profoundly honest. We shared absolutely everything. I had a girlfriend….imagine that….a girl who was a friend of the girl that I was.
But, alas there is always a downside. There was that pesky job I had at the church and all the other things I was counted on to do there. I’d not had anything to do since mom went home so I just threw myself at the church. Now I just couldn’t wait to get home, fire up the ‘puter and start talking with my girlfriend. At the church I was still a liar, but with Susan I was a truth teller. I was a giddy truth teller. Telling the truth was like a drug, it was addictive….I wanted more and more of it….and soon I got my chance.
Susan lives on a big estate in the country, no neighbors at all. She and her mother live there by themselves. It happened about a month or so after our first meeting that Susan’s mother had decided to fly out to California for a week to visit with her ailing sister. So, Susan had the place to herself. She invited me out for the week. Oh, I wanted to go so bad. I had to go back to my old ways, or should I say my still ways at the church. But, I was accomplished so I made up a good lie about how an old army buddy was sick and I wanted to go be with him for awhile. If I’d chosen another lie things might have turned out differently, but….that’s the lie I used, and I headed off to Pennsylvania.
Another tg friend from the group I’d met Susan in was coming too. She was a very special one herself. She was not ts, was very happy with being a man, but she loved to dress up like a girl and pretend to be one. She was a cross dresser I guess you’d say. But she was one of us and we loved her and she loved us. That week was….indescribable. By the time it was coming to an end I had drowned myself in honesty and was dead for all intents and purposes. I loved, admired and respected those two girls so much. I’d never felt like that about anyone but Annie in my life.
I’m not sure what started it. I have come to believe after the fact that when the thought crossed my mind the night before it ended that I was going to have to go back to work, to the church and tell the biggest, most disgusting lie I’d ever told. I was going to have to tell those folks about how good a time I’d had with my old army buddies. It almost made me puke. I was going to convert these two most wonderful, beautiful people into “old army buddies.” that must have been it: I started crying late that night after we’d all gone to bed.
I cried all night….as quietly as I could. I didn’t know at the time just how distressed I really was. I attributed it to being sad because this wonderful time was coming to and end. That made sense. About five that morning, still crying….I got up, slipped into my clothes, left a short note saying only that I needed to go early, got into my car and headed west. Now I could cry harder, and I did. By the time I got to the interstate I was sobbing uncontrollably. When I crossed over into Ohio I thought it was about time to stop this nonsense and get myself straightened out. I may have thought that but the tears had a mind of their own and they were in full flood with no sign of letting up.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to Akron when it didn’t rain or snow. That trip was no different. As I passed Kent the rain started. It was early Sunday morning. Between the rain and the tears I could barely see. What caused me to feel like that was a good time to hit the gas I don’t know. I do remember seeing a hundred on the speedometer once. I just cruised at top speed, in and out of the light traffic. I wasn’t overtly trying to commit suicide, but I was giving providence every opportunity to make her move….she let me down.
Just after leaving 1-79 headed south towards Columbus there is a rest stop. I pulled in there with the intention of getting the crying thing under control. I was feeling awfully ashamed of myself for having tempted providence in a forum that might have imposed my unhappiness on the rest of the world. If you want to kill yourself, I thought, then go on home, get out a gun and take care of it without involving the rest of the innocent world. So stop this crying! No luck. Although I cried all the way home I did drive like I had good sense from there on.
When I got home I found a note from Annie. She’d gone over to her sister’s house to spend the night. I was really kind of relieved about that, I wasn’t crazy about her seeing me in this condition. Sometime that night I finally cried myself out. I was empty. I didn’t sleep, I just sat there on the couch in the quiet and did nothing. Now I was even beyond the suicide thing, it just didn’t matter enough anymore. It was over no matter what I did. Yes, I was empty.
It was about dawn on the day after the sky fell in. I was sitting on the organ bench in the front room of our little house in the country. I’d had no light on all night as I just sat there empty. No tears, no desires, no ambition and no direction. It was only when the light began making it’s way across the organ from the window behind that I noticed something strange: my nails were still polished a soft pink.
How’s that for motivation? What a way to come tumbling back to earth. I was due at work at 9 am. My call to action was to get that polish off my nails. No drab, dedicated church-going man could show up at the office with nail polish on. Let’s see….shirt….check….tie….check….nail polish….check….but I had a problem. The more I looked at those polished nails the more my tummy churned. I thought I was going to cry again. I went as far as getting some nail polish remover and some cotton swabs and putting them on the organ. It was time, I had to do this. I had to get myself ready, go down to the office, smile and start telling everyone about the good time I had with my army buddies. My stomach churned harder. I should have worked on this lie, or should I say this series of lies. I had a whole week to account for and I knew I would be asked for details.
“Gee yes….we went out deer hunting.” Was it even in season? How about….”we worked on farm equipment?” Not much…. My friend was ailing, yes….now I remember. Aaaaa….had he died? No that’s too traumatic, we’d end up asking God to receive a soul that wasn’t coming. Get the nail polish off and then we’ll work fast on the story. But when I reached for the remover my hands wouldn’t work. I needed to approach this from another angle. OK, I’ll get dressed and then take it off. But, shouldn’t I shower first, and shouldn’t I get the nail polish off first so the shower would dilute the smell of the remover? OK, take the polish off. It just wasn’t happening for me. My mind was ready it seemed, but my body was in full revolt. I just couldn’t make it go through the motions of taking the polish off. I just sat there awash in confusion and disgust. Flashing bits of the lie I was to tell, trying to concentrate on how to get the polish off, wondering if I was going to be able to stand being at work. My mind was racing now….full speed into the wall. Get up and do it again, over and over….the same wall….the same headlong rush.
The door opened and the final insult, “Hi honey, I’m glad you’re home. Why didn’t you call and let me know?” This was really getting crazy now. I didn’t even know I didn’t call….it hadn’t even occurred to me. I hadn’t even considered that I should have….I hadn’t considered anything. I just told her that I couldn’t take my nail polish off.
“Why not?” She wanted to know. She offered to help. “No, I mean….I can’t take it off.” She was getting a little confused herself now. “Come here, I’ll take it off for you.” “NO, I mean I CAN NOT take it off, it would be so wrong!” Her confusion was now being trumped by her concern.
I wondered myself what I’d just said. The words didn’t make much sense but the meaning was swirling around in me somewhere and was trying to take shape. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Oh, God….here we go again, up the flood without an ark. Annie’s concern had already taken shape and it was real. If I had it in me I would have felt like a real jerk right about then. But I didn’t have it in me. I think deep down I knew that I would have to come way up in the world to get to jerk. Didn’t make much sense, her wasting perfectly good concern on me.
“Steven!” (that’s what she called me in those days) “Something is very, very wrong and I want to know what it is!” Her tone demanded a response. It took me by surprise, but through the fog all that would come out was some nonsense about how I just couldn’t take that nail polish off. ‘Idiot,’ I thought, ‘That’ll sure make her feel better.’ She came over to me and knelt down before the bench. Taking both my hands she looked up into my eyes. I think all she saw was pain and confusion. She wiped the tears with a Kleenex, stood me up and walked us over to the couch. We sat down and she held me in her arms. “It’s going to be OK,” she said, “We’re going to get through this. I’m going to see to it.”
Oh, God….how I needed to hear just that, just then. Now the sobbing took over again and this time it meant it. This was the kind of crying that was going somewhere. Someone else was in charge, someone I could trust. For the first time since I was a baby I just let it all go. My Annie was here and she was going to take charge. I shut down and put myself in her hands. God guided her hands, and the new world I’d located on the internet was about to take form in the real world.
Annie called the hospital. Whoa! Hospital? I don’t know how that got into the plan, but….forget it….Annie is in charge. She told them that her husband was having an emotional crisis and that she thought he was in serious and immediate need of professional help. They told her to bring me in. I allowed her to load me up in the car and drive me down there. We went in to see this nice lady who asked me some questions which Annie answered. I was doing my job….I was crying my eyes out, Annie was in charge. The nice lady decided that I needed to go up to the “third floor”, the stress unit, where they put folks who can’t take care of themselves. You know what? After all that had happened in my life in the last twenty four hours I wasn’t at all sure I wouldn’t make a pretty good fit up there, so when Annie agreed with the nice lady I just nodded.
It took a couple of hours to get processed and all. I just sat out there in Annie’s arms and cried it on out. By the time we got on the elevator up, I had quit. I was a little baby, I had no responsibility for anything, my Annie was in charge and she would do what was right. I got checked into the locked unit. A very nice young nurse, with only the best of intentions asked me if I’d like to take my nail polish off before I went into the unit. I looked at Annie and she looked at me….”No.” she said….”Leave it on.”
And so….the big question has an answer, “No.” she said, “Leave it on.”
I was let into the unit. They took my shoestrings and my belt, and made sure I had no knives or glass or anything I might hurt myself with. I didn’t care, they could have it all as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t in charge anymore. It was wonderful, I really was not in charge! There were people all over the place, making decisions, telling me where to go and what to do. All I had to do was follow instructions and nobody would bother me, a lot like being in the army. I was given a room, a nice quiet room with a bed. I lay down on it and was sleeping like any good baby should in just a little bit of no time.
Sometime that evening a pleasant young woman came into my room. She was quietly saying my name….”Steven….Steven….” I looked up. She had a nice smile. Not a happy smile, not a smile I could read right off….just….pleasant. “Your wife is here to see you, would you like to see her?” I didn’t have to think about that, of course I wanted to see my sweet Annie. the young woman left the room. I sat groggily up on the side of the bed. I didn’t know if I was supposed to go somewhere or if Annie was coming here to my room. Soon, in she walked….carrying a plastic bag.
She came straight across the room, saying nothing she sat down beside me on the bed, took me in her harms and gave me a kiss. She smoothed out my hair and straightened out my shirt. She was good at this mommy thing.
“How are you feeling?” the obligatory question.
“OK.” the obligatory answer.
“I hope you don’t mind me waking you up?”
“Of course not.” Then a touch of reality, “Did you call work?”
“Yes, they said to take all the time you need. They’ll pray for you and Steve, (my pastor at the time) will be in to see you tomorrow.”
‘Oh happy day,’ I thought. ‘That’s gonna be fun.’
She had the bag in her lap. “I brought you something if you want it,” she offered. I couldn’t really think of anything I particularly wanted but a little of the jerk had been slept out of me so I feigned curiosity and asked what it was. She reached into the bag and pulled out my blonde wig. I was taken a little aback. The wig stayed in a bag at home. It was for those times when I’d gotten to go see Susan. She then pulled out my little black top….a pattern was emerging. The skirt and shoes, my whole outfit. But the bag wasn’t empty. She pulled out a pair of pink panties and a bra. By now I found myself glancing a little nervously at the door. This was beyond my outfit and we weren’t going to Pennsylvania..
“It’s up to you,” she said. “If you can’t take off the nail polish, I understand, you may as well just stop all the nonsense and be who you are.”
My stomach jumped right out of my mouth. I knew about transition, I’d talked about it several times with Susan and some others I’d met online, and some who had actually done it. That’s what Annie was talking to me about right now….transition. She was suggesting that if I thought I needed to, I should do it…..I should put that little outfit on and not look back. Personally I wasn’t at all sure I was ready for this. Kind of radical, but, hey….I was sitting up here on the third floor stress unit where they keep the nuts, and I was right at home. So, who was I to determine what was rational and what wasn’t? There are perks to being a nut – sanity is not your responsibility. But, that outfit? My “unaccomplished drag queen get up? I laughed. Here we were having our first conversation about transition and I’m already criticizing outfits….you go girl!
The door, I soon learned was to remain open when visitors are in patient rooms. I didn’t know it then though, so I closed it. I took off my clothes and started putting on the outfit, with Annie’s help. When I got on the panties and bra, just slipping the top over my head, the door opened and that pleasant young woman walked in. With that unreadable smile, the calm pleasant voice, she seemed as if she wasn’t even aware of the fact that I was sitting there in my panties. She informed us pleasantly that the door had to remain open, turned and left. Too late now, gimme the skirt! Annie just smiled and acted as if it were just another everyday happening….nothing to it.
We chatted a little more. I was actually a lot looser then I thought I should be. We didn’t talk about anything serious, no more mention of clothes or transition or what would happen next. We just talked about our animals, Gizzie and Feisty Bear, how long I might be up there….just stuff. When it was time she hugged me, kissed me, hugged me again….and was gone.
I sat there in my pink nail polish and unaccomplished drag queen costume and wondered what was going to happen now. Was I supposed to do something? It was nine o’clock in the evening and I hadn’t eaten all day. I wasn’t particularly hungry right at the moment but eating did seem to be something I should be thinking about….so I did. I wondered how they handled meals up here. Did they bring them to your room, or did you have to go somewhere? Was there a particular time for this, or just whenever you got hungry? It was kind of nice, having something to think about. I just sat there tossing it about, leaning on it and being grateful for having that problem instead of some other one that wasn’t as likely to end with anything as pleasant as food.
Here she was again….old pleasant face. She very calmly and pleasantly let me in on that refreshments were being served in the day room and that I was welcome to come down if I wanted. Didn’t she see that I was sitting there in that costume? Wasn’t she supposed to laugh, or get offended or run out of the room screaming in horror? She really was hard to read. I told her no, that I wasn’t hungry, but thanks anyway. OK, she was gone, dang! All that tossing food around in my head had left me hungry! OK, I could take the costume off, slip back into my jeans and t-shirt, go down and see what they had. Then again….hadn’t I gone through that just this morning? Wasn’t it something akin to that that had landed me in the funny farm? OK, bad idea….I’m really not all that hungry anyway….dang! I wonder if they bring crackers or something around? There wasn’t even a glass to get a drink of water in there. I wonder if there’s a fountain out in the hall. I ventured over to the door, stood right in it,s and looked up and down. Nope, nothing there but other doors.
I looked to the right; doors along the hall with a wall at the end. I looked to the left; doors along the hall with another hall at the end. Not a soul in sight. Everybody must be in the day room, wherever that was, wolfing down those refreshments. I stepped out the door into the hall….not a soul in sight. I started to feel my heartbeat. Listen, I told myself, if you’re ashamed of yourself, go back in there and put your pants on. But if this is you, then hold up your head, stick out that empty bra and….sneak down to the end of the hall and see if there’s a water cooler close. Option three: go back in your room, sit down and re-evaluate. I selected door number three.
(whew) That was close!
I sat there on the bed for a little longer, took off my clothes, down to my brand new pink panties, slipped under the covers and was that good baby again in no time. No kidding, I slept like a baby until the next morning.
There was old pleasant face….no, it was her clone….or her sister. A little strange, same smile, same calm voice, same detached approach to life….”Good morning, Steven….Would you like to come down to breakfast?” My stomach made my voice say, “Yes ma’am” before my brain could make it say something stupid like….”No, I’m not really hungry.” I wasn’t all that groggy this morning. Things did seem a bit more clear than they had the night before. I slipped into my costume, minus the bra and wig, and before I could change my mind I stepped out into the hall, made a hard left and took off towards the unknown. My step had purpose, I was hungry.
There were people in the halls this morning. I smiled and kept up that purpose, just like I knew where I was going. There was a crowd down at the end of the hall I was in, seemed like something must be happening there so that’s the way my purposeful black sandal pumps went. Sure enough, there was a big….thing….in the hall down there with a bunch of food all in it. There were trays there….they had little name cards. I fished around until I saw one with my name on it. Now, that’s what I’m talking about! Eggs and bacon and toast and milk and hot cereal and a banana….hot dog! For just a moment I entertained the idea of turning and retracing my purposeful steps right back to my room, but no one else was doing that. They were getting their trays and going into what I assumed must be the notorious “day room”. There were a bunch of big round tables in there where people were sitting with their trays eating. Some were talking, some were just sitting and eating. Everyone looked at me, and it was more than just glances. I know this because I’d made a life’s work of being inconspicuous. Stealth was my middle name, I could be nobody with anybody. Well, that wasn’t the case here, but I kept my smile. I spotted a table with a couple of guys sitting paying attention only to their trays….my kind of people. I walked up, asked if I might join them and took a seat. One glowered and moved his tray in a little closer to his body, apparently advising me to keep my paws off, the other paid me no mind at all. Really….my kind of people. I followed their lead….God, that was good!
Before anyone could break the spell, I think I must have been still chewing my last bite, I snatched up my tray, hustled out the door, placed it on the big cart and headed back down the hall towards my room and safety. It didn’t quite work out that way. About half way down the hall another smiling face stopped me. This one was a little different though. She wasn’t quite as detached….and somehow her smile denoted just a touch of mischievousness.
“Steven, good morning, I wonder if I might talk with you a little this morning?” She wasn’t wearing a smock, I noticed, like the pleasant clones. She had on a red business suit and a business like nametag that read, “Julie….Smith”….or something like that, and there was a Dr. in front of it. OK, a big wheel. This must be the part where I get my head shrunk. Outside of her suit and that nametag one wouldn’t suspect she was a big wheel. Her smile was not pleasant, it was friendly and there was that mischievous twinkle in her eye….I almost wanted to talk to her. “Ummmm, I guess,” I stammered. And then, in a very matter of fact, completely non-judgmental way, she asked me if there was another name I’d like to go by.
My name online had been Pennyjane….it’s a long story, but most everyone had taken to just calling me Pj, I guess it just saves a lot of wear and tear on the fingers.
“Pj,” I said without thinking. And so now, I was officially Pj.
“Ok, Pj, how about right after first group?” ‘First group?’ I wondered who thought this up. First group implied a second group….and a third and on and on…. Group. I knew what that was. That’s where a bunch of….troubled people….get together and talk about all their troubles….great! I was already looking forward to talking with Julie, but this group thing…..
“OK, I answered, “Do you think I could get cleaned up a little first?”
“Sure,” she said checking her watch, “It’s 8:30, first group is from nine until 10:30 so how about then?
Oh my! An hour and a half, “Do I have to go to that group?’
“No, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
“Good, then I think I’ll pass.” This wasn’t so bad. Julie smiled that mischievous smile and told me that she could see me at nine then, if that was alright….sure it was.
Now, I wondered how I was going to shave. It was Tuesday morning, last I’d shaved was Saturday….the grizzly face and the 18 year old’s skirt weren’t a good match at all. I went by the nurse’s station and asked the girl there if there was any way I could get a razor. She sent an orderly to the back room to retrieve an electric. Apparently this got passed around. (yuck), but….you gotta do what you gotta do. The orderly, pleasant face of the male variety, gave me the razor and a baggie full of toiletries, and off to my room I went. No one, it seemed, had even noticed that I was wearing a skirt. Well, those other crazies in the day room, but they hadn’t said anything, so….maybe it’s not all that rare up here. I got myself cleaned up as best I could, donned my padded bra and blond wig, and went down to see Julie.
Pj….no one but Susan and….our other friend….had ever called me that to my face. It was strange. Pj….cute, too….I liked it. So blonde and padded Pj found “her” way down to Julie’s office. She invited me in to her friendly-looking office and sat me down on her friendly couch. Very friendily she smiled and asked me how I was feeling this morning. I was feeling pretty good. That’s about all the beating around the bush Julie did that morning. She got right to the point, “So, you believe you are a woman?” Made me sound kind of nuts, like maybe, “So you believe your are Napoleon?”
“I am,” I said, “inside.”
“OK, so….what seems to be the problem?”
Now, there’s a loaded question. I started to tell her that’s what I was there for her to tell me, but that would have made me sound like a smart alec and I didn’t think that would be the smartest thing I could do right then, so since she’d been so direct, I got direct right back.
“You know they can fix that now.” God, I had no idea it was so simple….they can just up and fix it? I had the feeling we were going to go down the hall to the fix-it room and by lunch I’d be sitting down to pee.
“Well, I know they can do sex-changes, but….it’s awfully complicated and expensive isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes,” she almost giggled, “It’s a process and it does take some time, and the expense is prohibitive to many, but it can be done. And, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of this but I’ve known some women who just present as their female selves and never actually do the surgery.”
No, actually I’d never thought of any of this outside of some vague fantasies. I spent much of the next hour just listening and trying to take in all she was telling me. She said she’d talked quite a lot with Annie yesterday and the feeling she got from her was that she didn’t care. She just wanted me to figure out what I wanted and she would stand by me 100%. She was very worried about me, I was told, she said I’d never been in this kind of shape before. I had to agree with that! And I felt awfully guilty too, putting my Annie through all this. I wanted to assure her right then that I was much better already and that I was going to be fine. Julie called her on the telephone and we spoke a few minutes. I assured her I was OK and she seemed relieved. I did mention how out of place I felt in my unaccomplished drag queen get up and asked if she could try to find something a little more appropriate for one of my years. She said she’d see what she could do.
Julie finished up our time by letting me in on how the program worked up there. It seemed that I couldn’t just be pronounced “well” and sent home. There was a process: a certain number of groups attended, reports on participation, what activities one participates in, how you get along with others….etc….etc. The eye opener was that the average stay was two weeks. That seemed a little much, but….just yesterday I’d surrendered control, maybe I should at least try to get the most of it while I was here. I could try to get into the process and see….maybe something good could come of it.
Once upon a time there was this ratty little man who showed up at church. He looked as if he’d slept in his clothes, maybe more than once, and he did smell a bit. The nice clean congregation wasn’t all that pleased with him. They went to the pastor and asked him to do something about it. As the service was letting out the pastor pulled the ratty little man off to the side. He told him he should go home and ask God what might be appropriate to wear to church. The ratty little man said he would do so, and was off. The next week he showed up for service again, in his same ratty little way. The congregation was now annoyed, they told the pastor he needed to do something about it! Again, as the service was letting out he called the ratty little man over.
“I thought I told you to go home and ask God what would be appropriate to wear to church?”
“I did,” said the ratty little man, “God said He didn’t know…..He’d never been to this church before.”
Pastor Steve showed up at visiting time that evening. Without going into great detail about the riot act I was read, the gist was that I should ask God what might be appropriate to wear to church. I answered the same way as my ratty little friend. My association with the Salvation Army was a thing of the past.
Annie came and brought me two very appropriate floral dresses, a couple more pairs of panties and some white flats. We talked, I went over the program with her….she told me what she’d told Julie. Actually she said it a little more affirmatively….she said that transitioning was what she thought I should do. She said she wanted me happy and whole, not miserable and abstract. She has always made a lot of sense.
I finished the program, was sent away with confidence and a new sense of life, my life. I have not looked back. I spent a full year in transition before starting HRT (hormone replacement therapy), then two years on HRT, and then surgery. That’s been nearly two years ago. Who knows what tomorrow may bring? Today, I am a living, growing creature with a future and a destiny. I am whole and I am real.
Thank you all for listening and may God bless us all with much love and hope. pj