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Memo to my Former Self (2 of 3: to my 15 yr old self)

This is the second in my series “Memos to my Former Self”.  The first was to my 7 year old self. This one is a letter to my teenage high school self.  I plan on writing a third one to my older self, when I was 57 when I was just on the cusp of finding out my truth.

I recently read a book (“Letters For My Sisters, Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect. Published by Transgress Press”) compiled with stories that trans* people wrote to their younger selves.  They were asked “what would you say to your former self” and “to what age”?


Steve: High School years

Steve: High School years

Heh Steve!  Hold up a minute. Ya, I know you just finished ROTC drill team practice and need to get ready for the dance tonight.  Kathy is a wonderful gal, you and her make a beautiful couple.  I know you are going to have fun tonight!

Oh, I’ll get around to that – I think you will quickly figure out how I know these things.  Let’s just say I’m not your average older woman and that we have everything in common …

Look, I know you are having a tough time right now.  Yesterday you were downtown walking up main street.  You looked a bit grim, very unusual for you huh?  You really really want the next 5 years to pass by with the snap of your fingers.  Guess what?  I’m proud of you for wishing that!  I know, seems strange that I would agree with you huh?  But what you don’t see is what underlies all of that.  Wishing this is your way of coping.  The alternative – quitting life – is not something you would ever consider, right?  Trust me, I very glad and proud of you for that.

This may seem like a strange thing to say, but I know that it is hard for you to be out in public, walking downtown or even the dance tonight.  At least tonight it will be dark and only Kathy will be noticing you, or at least that is what you hope.

It’s been difficult growing up, right?  Sort of conflicting a number of times.  Part of you was glad you finally started to shave but another part, deep down, was horrified.  Ya, I know you only felt the conflict and could not understand where it came from.

And Kathy – isn’t it wonderful to have a steady at last?  It’s not like you don’t have girl friends.  Seems like every single girl you meet is your friend.  But none (except Kathy) ever see you as anything other than, well, another one of their girl friends.  In fact, they would tell you things they would only tell their girl friends – and they would never ever tell a ‘boy’!

I know this made you feel very special.  And it should.  I also know that you have never doubted your maleness even in light of this.  Or in light of seeing how much different all the other boys are from you.  And it’s not just the normal differences between one individual and another.  We are talking ‘all’ the boys.  Not only that, you are disgusted with the attitudes of grown men, especially when it revolves around women.  People you looked up to and thought were great men and even your role models have this distorted view – objectifying them, seeing them as second rate and sexualizing them.  And oh my god, even priests (pun intended)!

Of course you don’t understand the men but do understand the women very well.  You have a lot in common with them.  That is why they come to you, as another one of their girl friends and also why they do not date you.  Same sex dating is a pretty big no-no right?  Yes, I know, you believe you are a man, but try to understand that from their perspective, you ‘know’ (and feel) to much.

Look, sorry, but I can not spill all the beans. I will give you some hints to try to help.  You have had some trauma in your early childhood that resulted in your hiding a large piece of yourself very deeply.  Sad to say, it is going to take almost the rest of your life to figure it out.  But that is ok.

You have done so much already with your life.  So many accomplishments – but everyone just writes those off and I know it seems like you even have to hide those or never talk about them for fear of ridicule or worse, being accused of the dreaded bragging.  Your mother will brag about your other brothers and your sister, but only complains to others about you.  This is so unfair – you are so much better – especially when you know what your brothers have done.  Somehow they still are the apple of your mom’s eye.

Hang in there Steve – know inside that you are better than just ok – you are awesome – even though no one else will ever acknowledge that.  I’ll give you a small hint:  they are jealous.  I’m sorry to tell you, but this will continue like that for the rest of your life with them.  But trust me, later in life, not only will you confirm this, but others will tell you this too.

Steve: finally a happy face!  You were always so serious.

Steve: finally a happy face! You were always so serious.

You know how you always seem to need to accomplish things?  Sort of always feeling like you have to prove yourself?  Ya, I know, it’s a constant pressure.  You are always so serious, even your pictures show that.  Well, you know, all these things we just talked about contribute to this.  They all add up and compound the pressure to perform.  Unfortunately your deep dark secret is part of the cause of all of this.

That part about the girls seeing you as another girl friend?  And how disgusted you are about not just some but all other other boys?  Ya.  This has instilled in you a powerful drive to prove yourself from the very core of your being.

I commend you for picking and choosing honorable ways of proving yourself: the sciences, academically (not talking grades here, I know you have picked the toughest courses, way beyond what is expected and you are keeping your head above water) and emotionally.  Steve, you will find that it is very rare to combine feelings and sensitivities with both science and with being ‘manly’.  Your future partners (sorry to say, but yes, that is plural) will see this in you and tell you that was one of the main attractions they had for you.

Steve, these are all pointers to your true self.  Unfortunately, you will not figure this out for another 40 years.  In a strange way perhaps it is fortunate.  Right now, in the strict conservative society you live in, that society would destroy you, your life, your world would completely change and life would be very very tough indeed.  You will need to trust me on this.  Just keep these memories, these ‘pointers’.  They will come in handy later on in life.

For now, trust that you are on the right path.  Be the daring brave person you are.  Get out there and climb those cliffs (I mean this both figuratively and  literally – you are going to take huge risks in your life that you will succeed in and you are destined to be a technical mountain climber!).

Teenage Steve

Teenage Steve

You will start your own business, a high risk adventure that will last 8 years.  You and everyone involved will wind up far ahead in life and business because of what you start and do.  And you will get to fly a plane and almost get your private pilots license.  Your friends will invite you to come along with them to climb the cliffs by devils lake.  And that is before climbing hardware was used – you will learn how to tie ropes to form a safety belt and how to repeal with rope only!  You will be very daring and adventurous.  Some will say a bit too risky.  But you have calculated those risks – these are well chosen, well within your abilities.  You might not understand this, but you need to do these things.  You need to prove yourself, you always have. It has to do with your feelings of not fitting in as a boy, a man.

Oh and Kathy – what a gal!  You will have fond memories and attempt to find her later in life.  Unfortunately, the most you will find out is 5th hand information:  something about her living upstate, married, not very well off and not happy.  Sorry about that.  Your second love winds up as a medical doctor and lives in a very posh neighborhood, so I guess that balances things out.  You find others, some will break your heart, but you pick up and move on, even though you felt for sure “she was the one”.

A married Steve, about 25yrs old

A married Steve, about 25yrs old

Yes, you will get married (twice).  You will have two sons and you will have four wonderful grandsons.  Unfortunately, after they have left the house on their own, your deep secret will start to manifest and this will cause them a great amount of grief.  You will lose everything you had accomplished at that time: your marriage, your sons and their families, your job and your dream house on a northern lake, not to mention a lot of friends and other family.  The sad thing is that you will not even know why until years after.  That is when all the pieces will come together.

You will not be very happy with what you did to bring this on.  I’m not going to judge that one way or another.  It just is.  You will need to accept that and push on.

And there is good news after that:  you get married again, this time to another wonderful person and guess what?  You move to Hawaii and get the most awesome perfect job for you.  And even better, you finally figure out who and what you are, and you successfully change to be the authentic you.

Yes, you make it – in spades ….

Hang in there kiddo – those next 5 years you are wishing to pass will evaporate (maybe too fast).

… from your future self

 

 

 

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Memo to my Former Self (1 of 3: to my 8 yr old self)

I recently read a book (“Letters For My Sisters, Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect. Published by Transgress Press”) compiled with stories that trans* people wrote to their younger selves.  They were asked “what would you say to your former self” and “to what age”?

I think this is brilliant and thought I would give it a go.  But I had a hard time determining the age that I would sent it too.  The best I could do was come up with was three different times of my life that I would have sent a letter to.  This is the first of those three.  I’m sending this to myself when I was in early grade school – about 8 or 9 years of age.


Steven: 7 Year old me

Steven: 7 Year old me

Hi Steven, it’s ok.  I know I must look ancient to you but please don’t be afraid.  I’m not one of those adults that tell you what to do or believe a child should be seen and not heard.  I know how tired you are of always being second tier: adults, older kids, bullies.

Your parents don’t give you credit for what you accomplish.  I know all you want is some recognition for your hard work. You just want to have some say in your life and some control over yourself, your life and your future.  I know…

And yet – look at yourself – one can see in your eyes how proud you are of yourself and of your determination.  Remember this, these are powerful tools that you have and that will get your through life.  And I’m sorry to say: you will need to remember this.

I have some great news and perhaps some scary and unbelievable news – about you and your future!

You know how every body in school picks on Billy, calls him names, thinks he’s slow and stupid and retarded?  You hate that.  You’ve seen how smart he is.  He just has a problem in front of people he does not know well.  But no one gives him credit, they just ridicule him and call him names.  Worse yet, you saw how his other friends attempted to stick up for him and then they got ridiculed and shunned.  I know this has kept you quite and that you held back from supporting him in public.  I know you feel bad about that too.

I’m not going to tell you that you should have stood up for him.  I know that you have something you are hiding that would make it even worse for you if anyone knew.  Surprised?  Yes, I knew you would be.  I’m sorry to say, that even at your very young age, trauma has forced your secret so deep that it will take many many years to reconnect to it.

I know you are scared, you saw how people treat Joey, calling him names like sissy and queer just because everyone thinks he acts like a girl and likes the other boys.  And I know you have some things in common with him.  And yes, I know you like girls not boys.  In fact you can’t understand boys and why they are the way they are.  They are so different than you – right?  And I know you are having problems understanding why you are so different.

You have spent a lot of time thinking about this, right?  A part of you knows you are more like all the girls around you then the boys.  Yes, I know, you ‘know’ you are a boy and just have these ‘extra’ abilities and sensitivities.  And that’s ok.  It really is ok.

I can see how all the kids at school would treat you and the very difficult time you would have if they knew.  And you have already seen what would happen from watching how they treat Billy and Joey and others.  You need to be protected and that is what your unconsciousness has done for you – buried this deeply.  And that is ok too.

You believe fitting in and doing what everyone tells you to do and achieving will make you successful.  And you know from watching others that doing this puts you ahead and in front of everyone else.  You have seen how competitive grade school is and know that success is not on the play ground or being the most popular with the kids.  You see the larger picture – it’s the adults and later life you are getting ready for.

Well, you are right!  But everything has a price.  Your price is burying something so deep that it will take 50 years before you find it and solve it.

Steve: at puberty

Steve: at puberty

This is ok too.  Everything has a give and take.  This will haunt you, you will not fully understand why or what it is.  There will be many times when life will give you huge clues, but you will simply ‘file them away’ only later to look back and finally put the pieces together.  Such is life I’m afraid.

Yes, it’s going to be hard.  There will be times you wish you could just skip forward 5 years – get past the awful times.  At least you will never think of calling it quits.  You are tough that way.

Please, take time to look back at your accomplishments and awards.  You need to know that you are accomplishing some really big and cool things.  I know they seem like nothing, like everyone else and that you feel you are not at all special – you are constantly being told this by your teachers, your parents and family and even the other kids.  But really, as you grow up, remember this:  take time to look back and assess your spectacular achievements – they really are wonderful accomplishments you know.  And you need to know that.

You have a wonderful enjoyment of life.  Your nature is to be happy.  This is going to serve you very well.  You love nature and many times you will go to her to help sooth yourself and solve the issues life throws at you.  Believe me, you have all the ‘tools’ you need and then some…

Let me give you a small peek at the rest of your life.  There are many hard times – much harder then what you are experiencing right now.  But you accomplish so much.  You will find and experience some of the most beautiful and joyous moments anyone could wish for.  The last job you have before retiring will be a dream come true for you.

Steven - about 7

Steven – about 7

You will have a family, grand-kids too.  They will be an awesome part of your life.  But, when you solve your deep secret, you will cause them great pain and will have to leave them.  The jury is still out if they will ever reconcile.  Like I said, everything has a price.  I’m sorry to tell you this.

I’m not going to comment on good or bad.  Life just is.  Things that seem bad usually turn out much much better – although it takes time before that happens.  You will always be happy and content with life.  You will continue to achieve and to enjoy life.

Solving your deep secret will free you – in ways you just can not imagine.  Yes, I know I have not told you what that is.  I’m sorry, but if I did, so much of your life would be different.  I really do wish you could figure it out now, at your age.  Yes, your life would be easier in some ways, but you would miss so many of life’s struggles and these struggles are what will shape you into a wonderful person that you will become.  Unfortunately, these hard times really are necessary.

With so much love and admiration,

… your future self

 

6 Months Post-Op

3/11/2015 Working at the summit

3/11/2015 Working at the summit

The ‘big’ 6!  This is the second milestone of recovery from SRS (4 months, 6 months and 1 year).  At 4 months the contractions and nerve re-connections pretty much stopped.  Now at 6 months most of the rest of the constant pain has gone away.  Whereas before it felt like something very hard was just inside under everything – that has now gone away.  Before, there was a constant low level pain – every second.  Regardless of what I was or was not doing – I always felt “down there” – constantly.  Only when I took pain medicine was it normal – with out pain or a constant swollen feeling.

Now, it’s just occasionally that there is any pain down there.  Today I didn’t even use my seat cushion at work – and I worked at the summit (it’s harder when working up there).  I’ve graduated to only using my seat cushion if it’s a hard chair.  Trust me – that is a lot of progress!  I can also sleep at night without having a pillow between my legs to keep them apart.

This all happened the day before my 6 month anniversary.  Just like the 4th month anniversary, seems like it took me right up until the day before for things to fall into place – but they did …

I’ve gained about 8 pounds since the operation.  Now that I’m feeling better, I’m going to start my walking again.  I bought a weighted hula-hoop for exercise too.  And oh boy – it’s not so easy to lose weight like it was before.  My goal is to drop another 30 lbs over the next year.

It’s been very cold here in Hawaii, especially upcountry here.  It’s been down in the 50’s.  Now, back when I lived in Minnesota, with furnaces in every house, even at -40 below zero, our house was a nice comfortable 72.  But we do not have heaters here.  So when it’s 50 degrees outside, it’s ever so slightly warmer inside – like 52 ….  That is cold even for Minnesota for inside.  And worse:  since my operation it’s very easy for me to get a chill.  I feel like I’m freezing almost all the time.  Life has changed.

I have three wonderful women that I’m privileged to have had as mentors as I transitioned to full womanhood.  Lisa of course and two others that I work with at the observatory.  One of them now, no longer works there.  She is the only one that would wear a dress or a skirt to work.  Almost everyone else is in t-shirts and jeans.  She was my inspiration for many things, style was one of them.  She is also the person that ran interference for me when I first started using the women’s restroom.  The other woman at work has also been an inspiration and huge help.  I would best describe her as a ‘wild woman’ in the best way – the way we all should aspire too.  Lisa on the other hand is my conservative mentor – right down the middle of the other two.  She keeps my feet on the ground and everything ‘real’.  I’m fortunate to have these three woman around me and mentoring me.

I still see the woman, that left the observatory, for lunch now and then, and just gave her and her sister’s family a tour of our observatory.  They had two sons, 5 and 9 I believe.  The older son was asking lots of very good questions – I wish everyone that I gave tours to would ask these kinds of questions!  But the younger child was getting bored fast.  He raised his hand and when I asked what his question was, he stated:  “I raised my hand three times …”  Oh dear ….

The spring is a busy time for me as I’m preparing and getting ready for some astronomy outreach events.  I am giving a demonstration on how we find NEOs (near earth objects – asteroids that are close to the earth’s orbit) using a 3D virtual model of our observatory.  The first is for the University of Hawaii’s open house in Manoa (Oahu) and then on the big island for their AstroDays celebration.  Later I teach about 320 3rd graders some elementary astronomy.  So I’ve been busy polishing up my presentations.  I enjoy these!

Soon we will be going back to Brookings to look for houses or lots again.  More houses and lots will be coming back on the market with the coming of spring.  Lisa is diligently watching and saving those we are interested in.  I can’t wait to get back there.  That is a magical place – just like Maui is.  Like other times in my life, it seems when it’s time to move on, I get behind it and put my energy into it.  It’s not that I want to leave, it’s just that I know I must.  I am going to miss Maui greatly.  I have spent two decades traveling the globe, have lived in a number of places – none I would actually call home, any more than home was where-ever I was.  Maui was the first and only place that actually was a home to me – and always will be.  This is the only place where the land beneath my feet has a deep connection to my spirit.  I chose my surname to honor this:  literally “the home”.  This is hard, but I embrace this move to Brookings and am investing my future there.

Not sure if I’ll couple a trip back to Minnesota with the next Brookings trip or the one after.  But I can not wait to go back and see my two sons, their wives and the four grandsons I have now.  And also to see many of my friends and some old friends that have stayed with me.  Somehow, now, this is very important to me, this re-connection.  I think a lot of this has to do with feeling that, for them, I’m now on the other side of transition.  The last time I saw them was when I came out to them at the very beginning of all of this.  I know so much more now and am so different from back then (it’s been awhile).  I wish I could go back to that time with the knowledge I have now.  Now, few will ask, most will quietly attempt to accept and carry on.  I wish I would have the opportunity for a full and deep discussion with them – but I truly doubt that a situation would arise to allow it.  Advice for others:  make it good the first time ….

For the first time I’m seeing scientific and medical papers being published about older transsexuals and the uniqueness of our stories, especially my story.  Today, children 4 or 5 years old express their gender truth and because there is enough information out there, parents, schools and society acknowledges them and they never have to live their lives coping with disphoira (it’s getting there – there are still a lot of horror stories).  For those older but not my generation, there was enough information, usually hidden, but enough that they knew they were the opposite gender even though they did not know the terms for it or if anyone else was like them or anything else about it.  They usually fought it – they became ultra-masculine: top navy seal, football quarterback for a top 10 team, even getting married and having children – as a way to prove to themselves they were what society said they were – men.

But older than that – me for example – there just wasn’t such a thing – nothing and society back then was very strict and fierce.  The only option, at least the way I explained it to myself, was that I was different – I was a boy, but I had all these other abilities (which were all feminine – but these all got twisted into somehow being masculine and acceptable).  But it really comes down to what we are inside and when that is in direct conflict with society (everything external to us, family, school, friends, relations, etc.) and this conflict is dangerous – then our subconsciousness deploys protection mechanisms.

When I was very young, I had a number of incidents that wound up driving this deep underground.  I was also a fast learner and when I saw others in deep trouble, this reinforced my protections.  Since there was no way to know or understand what my conflict was all about – part of me simply hid and made up a story – a story that would take 60 more years to unravel (see my beginnings blog for more information).  It’s nice to see these research papers basically stating the same – at last.

A number of people (family, spouse, older friends) have mentioned that they never saw this coming.  Along the lines of “I just don’t see how you could have hidden this for all these years – I did not see any indications of this in you”.  Well, nether did I !!  That is a consequence of how we create these protections within ourselves.  Ask anyone who has had childhood trauma, for example repeated familial rape.  They might even see the perpetrators as benevolent as they have to in order to survive.  These protections last a life time and only when things are ‘safe’ and these protections are no longer needed, will cracks start to appear and slowly layers upon layers peal back to reveal what actually happened – and we slowly heal.  It took seven years with a therapist and a ‘safe’ environment with Lisa to be able to bring all this out and start to understand.  And as I’ve stated before:  “As I allowed myself to become more of a woman, I started to notice something. It was more like my maleness was falling away then a femaleness was being attained. I was not becoming more of a woman, rather, like layers of an onion, my maleness was being peeled back.  I realized, I’m not becoming a woman – I am a woman.”

It is also of interest that both my ex-wife and my spouse now, have said that what initially attracted them to me were these female ‘sensitivities’ in a male.  They both see that it was the woman that I was underneath that was the attraction:  “you are not like other men….”.  Of course neither see themselves as anything other than heterosexual and would not have even giving me the time of day if I was a woman when we first met.  And of course when we first met – I still thought I was a man – only with all these ‘extras’.

These two things have always been difficult for me to explain:  why I didn’t have a clearer picture of myself as a girl at an early age and why no one, including myself, understood this or could even see my transsexualness for most of my life.  Only in hindsight is all of this clear to me.  I hope this post helps to answer this for you.  I’m glad to see research covering this as well.

What a journey!

With aloha,

Sifan

4 Months Post-Op

01/01/2015 At Mama's Fish House

01/01/2015 At Mama’s Fish House

Progress seems so very slow.  Sometimes the only way to measure is by the week and by seemingly small changes.  However, when I look back at what I have already gone through and realize what is now in the past – it amazes me.

Probably the largest change and one that I will never forget is getting over the UTI complication and being able to use the restroom like a normal woman.  As I’ve stated before – I will NEVER take going to the restroom for granted ever again in my life.  Almost every time I do use the restroom – I remember how difficult and painful it used to be and how it seemed like I would be that way forever.  This is the single most wonderful achievement other then being anatomically correct now.

With all of that behind me, now it’s the ‘normal’ recovery process for SRS that I face.  Of course now that this is front and center it takes over as the number one pain and stress of life and now becomes the next issue that I am waiting to get past.  Everything is swollen ‘down there’ – very normal but as I’ve described it before – it felt like a bowling ball between my legs.  At night, trying to sleep, I have to keep a pillow between my legs because I cannot put my knees together.  But there is progress – it feels like a baseball now.  Slow progress….

There is a whole new drama unfolding within the sisterhood that in some ways was expected but perhaps none of us really understood the full ramifications.  That is post-op depression. For some it’s huge.  For me it’s a slight sidelight hardly worth mentioning.  Basically we have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy planning, researching, questioning ourselves and preparing for transition – taking almost every second of our day and occupying our dreams at night.  Suddenly, it’s over, done, accomplished – even the dreams stop.  This was a large enough subject to warrant it’s own post.

Good news from the sisterhood (those of us that were together at Chonburi for our SRS plus others I know that had surgery with a different clinic around the same time):  a number of my sisters have reported that almost overnight, at about this point in time, the swelling suddenly subsided and things looked, felt and became – normal.  Well, I still have a baseball and am waiting for that to go away.  It is a constant low level pain.  I really feel sorry for and sympathize with those that have chronic pain.  Wearing anything puts pressure there.  Mostly I wear dresses or a skirt, but even panties will sometimes hurt.  Usually I can’t wait to get home and lay back, either in my comfy chair (where I can almost lay out flat!) or in bed.

The other good news from the sisterhood is that an increasing number of them have reported going beyond sensate and achieving the ‘big O’!  I am certainly sensate – but in no way do I want to go beyond that yet.  I’m just way too sore and protective of that area.  I can see where, just like I had to relearn how to urinate as that is completely different from a male, that this might be along the same line.  I am just hoping that my protectiveness does not complicate this.  From the sisterhood I know that I must learn to let go, to relax, trust and open up fully.  But this is all for the future – not now.

The granulations that I mentioned in the 3 month post, are still there – I did not have my doctor remove them.  I wrote to the clinic (and attached pictures) and they recommended to leave them alone, that they will heal by themselves.  They also pointed out that the rawness of the vestibule (center/floor of the inner labia below the clitoris) was actually due to two additional granulations, one of which is about 1/4 inch long – ugh.  My doctor agrees:  if it’s not causing pain or getting in the way – leave it.  These will bleed slightly now and then – but never very much and seems to be less and less.  My doctor says she can always remove them later if needed.  I cringe either way…

The other really good news is that I only dilate once a day now.  Usually that starts at month 6.  But I was able to reduce from 3 a day to 2 a day back in month 2, to only once a day now.  I’m also dilating with the ‘big’ one now.  Before it was only the medium.  The important thing is to be able to maintain depth and I have not lost any depth since leaving Chonburi.  Like my other sisters, I check every time I dilate and watch trends.  I will temporarily lose depth if I’m stressed or was sitting or had a car ride.  But I do my dilations just before going to bed.  This way I’m relaxed and can douche, wash up and go right to bed.  I also do not have any issue in getting to depth.  There have been some horror stories out there in the sisterhood of 1 to 2 hours just to get to depth.  Usually it only takes about 20 seconds for me.  One lesson I have learned – the intruitis and vaginal vault are totally separate from all the other parts down there as far as pain and discomfort are concerned.  The outer labia may be swollen and painful, but that has nothing to do with and no connection to dilation.  Wheeee – thank you very much!

Like everyone else in the sisterhood, every time we dilate, we all take out our mirrors and a light to meticulously inspect everything down there, watching for anything new or changed or a different color or troublesome, etc.  Just like everyone else, I am so careful with hygiene, washing before and after, being careful what I sit on, wiping seats down before I go, being selective where I go, using two different toilet papers for front and back, always wiping to the back and doing the back last.  That UTI taught me and others a big lesson…

I haven’t talked about HRT changes since before the surgery – time to catch up a bit.  Today is 19 months (slightly more than 1 1/2 years) since I started taking hormones.   Of course after the surgery I no longer take testosterone blockers – I’m only on Estrodiol.  Recently I have had additional breast growth.  Like before, areas of my breasts would get tender, then sore, then hard and then finally turn into growth in that area.  My aureoles have finally expanded along with my nipples – I’m looking much more natural now – they have caught up with the rest!  That was something that I wondered about – so note to others – this took a year and a half.  In fact I ‘show’ too much if all I wear is a shelf bra cami – I have to either wear a bra or use ‘hidden petals’ as they are called.  My skin is softer, my bottom is more rounded and the hair growth over most of my body has slowed down and changed.  I shave my legs and arms maybe once every two weeks (used to be once a week).  I shave my stomach and chest about every other day to every 3rd day (used to be every day).  So changes are still happening.

My estrogen levels have suddenly dropped this last month.  I see my endocrinologist later this week, so I’ll know more then.  They were normal for a younger woman (which is what I need to be at, at this point), now the level is about 1/4 of what it was – still normal for a post-menopausal woman – but not where I need to be just yet!  I’m going to ask for a retest.  There could be a number of reasons for the drop, including that I missed a day or two taking my hormones, could be where I apply the gel is getting less able to absorb it, could be the test itself or that the lady parts goes through phases where it exudes estrogen..  I’m hoping it’s the latter – just a phase of healing.

My new one piece bathing suit.

My new one piece bathing suit.

Finally after waiting so long, I made it to the beach!  I bought a new one piece bathing suit just for this moment.  The beaches and the ocean have meant a lot to me and having to abstain from swimming and wading for these three months following surgery was hard.  During my recovery in the hospital, swimming in the ocean was one of the things I would think and dream about.  That helped me through some of the rough times.  Here in Maui, especially on the south shore by Kihei, the water is nice (almost warm) even in the middle of winter.  I usually will try to go swimming on Mondays right after finishing electrolysis.  I’ll head down to the beach around noon and spend an hour there before heading back up home to get ready for work.

Oh, speaking of the beach – last Sunday I again went to the beach but the waves were in the 5 to 7 foot range.  It took me awhile to gather enough courage to go in.  Like they say, never put your back to the ocean (except to duck under the wave…).  I tried to measure one of them:  I was in about 5 1/2 feet of water – just before the wave the water went down to 2 feet and the wave topped my out-stretched arm – I figure about 6 to 7 feet worth of wave.  You have to know what you are doing out there – how to duck dive and what to do if you get rolled – which happened when I tried to measure that wave ….  Nothing like being in the ‘washing machine’ on spin cycle!  The water was grey with sand – and this was 1,000 feet out from the beach.  One lesson I learned:  lady parts and sand are not a happy combination – for days after!  I’ve rinsed out my new bathing suit a number of times and I’m still getting sand out (and same with my lady parts …).  Ack!

First time at the beach since my surgery.

First time at the beach since my surgery.

My electrologist found a new, better and much more powerful numbing cream.  She tried this out on me 3 weeks ago and was able to get at the very sensitive hairs beneath the nose (oh girl those used to be painful).  Previously, I had a dentist numb my face directly before going in for a 2 hour electrolysis session.  This past Monday I had my second 2 hour session where she used this new cream.  She would apply it, cover it, then work on a different area of my face as that area would numb up.  She is using topicaine.  She says its very important to occlude it.  Wow, she can get a lot done this way.  I’m seeing a lot of improvements.

Facial hair remains one of the more difficult self-conscientiousness issues.  It is difficult for any woman, but especially so for me as I have to stop shaving on Friday and let everything grow out over the weekend so there is enough to ‘grab’ for electrolysis on Monday.  This makes going out or doing anything on Saturday and Sundays difficult and embarrassing.  Right now, I have a faint 5 oclock shadow in a thin strip above my upper lip.  I noticed at work, that a couple of the women there have this as well.  So I’m getting there.

For the last month, occasionally I would wake up in the middle of the night (3am ‘ish).  I would be very sensitive to everything:  weight of the blankets on me, discomfort of my lady parts, refrigerator kicking in, dog barking in the distance, wind rustling the trees, my spouse cuddling me or being too close (normally we cuddle the entire night as we sleep).  These would prevent me from going back to sleep.  My mind was clear – no issues, nothing bothering me, etc.  My doctor gave me a prescriptions for pain, sleep and anxiety pills – none of which I want to use regularly.  Finally I found that I could take a Tylenol – it would take 30 mins but I would be able to sleep and more importantly, to be able to cuddle!  I’m going to talk to my therapist and doctor more about this.  I also posted to the sisterhood to see if anyone else went through something like this.

Jan. 3, 2015 Snow at the summit of Mt. Haleakala

Jan. 3, 2015 Snow at the summit of Mt. Haleakala

Seems this winter has it’s share of storms.  In the beginnings of January we had this ‘small’ storm come across the island of Maui.  The information from radar and satellite didn’t concern us at the observatory so no extra precautions were taken.  Oh girl – this storm flared up as it hit us and wound up dumping a bunch of snow and ice at the summit.  Could have been worse – the big island had blizzard condition on top Mauna Kea.  As usual, one of the engineers and I were the ones that had to run up and rescue things the next day.  It was freezing cold up there.  I had to fall back on my Minnesota experience: dressing in layers, shoveling snow and chopping ice just in order to get into the door of the observatory!   I had fun making a snow ball – first time in about 7 years since I had left Minnesota.  Next day, I found a little snowman in this same spot. I wound up having to go up to the summit three days in a row before the observatory was back on-line and on-sky.  Even now there are 5 remaining non-critical issues that I will have to get back up there to fix (I’ll probably go up this week sometime).

Dec 25, 2014 Christmas dinner at the Makena Beach resort

Dec 25, 2014 Christmas dinner at the Makena Beach resort

Lisa and I had a wonderful holiday.  I bought a new red dress for Christmas dinner.  We went out to the Makena Beach resort.  It’s a beautiful resort situated on a beach and overlooking the ocean.  Of course we got there a bit before sunset and watched as the sky turned beautiful pastel colors out over the ocean.  They have a huge smorgasbord of food from around the world.  It was a quite the feast with so many different foods and flavors.  It was difficult to choose from as there is no way a person could taste even a small piece of everything and not be wheeled out in a wheelbarrow!  Plus we celebrated with a bottle of delicious champagne – what an evening to remember!

For New Years, we went out to another favorite spot here on Maui – Mama’s Fish House.  This has got to be one of the best restaurants in Maui – if not all of Hawaii.  It’s on a cove on the north shore and is filled with memorabilia and nick-knacks, its architecture a bit eclectic with twisted tree limbs and roots for some walls, ship’s propeller and outrigger canoes as parts of the ceiling!  The food is very delicious.  This is where we go to celebrate my birthday.   Hummm, how do I convince Lisa that we should celebrate my new birthday (the date of my surgery) by going to Mama’s twice ….

01/01/2015 Celebrated New Years at Mama's Fish House

01/01/2015 Celebrated New Years at Mama’s Fish House

For the holidays, Mama’s Fish House put up a ‘sandman’ (a snowman would not last very long in the cove with the sea mists blowing over …).  So I had to get a picture with the sandman!

Overall, four months out from surgery, I would summarize by saying life is starting to settle into a new rhythm.  I am finding out more about myself, my body, as everything meshes and comes together.  Looking back, I think the biggest realization occurred right before and directly after surgery when I discovered that my body had disphoria in addition to my head.  I had spent all that time ‘in the head’ beforehand – that was very important – but I had missed all the clues from my body.  Perhaps being on the right hormones and now finally having SRS, I’m able to listen to my body – to be in touch with it and to love it.  Maybe it’s because of the lack of testosterone, perhaps it’s finally being congruent or maybe it’s just being female.  Such a difference from before …. such a difference …

With much Aloha,

Sifan

Post-Opt Depression

depressionThis is a ‘second’ transition – a transition to living a normal life – and this is not talked about or at least not mentioned to the degree that it should be.  In some ways this was expected but perhaps none of us that have gone through SRS really understood the full ramifications of.  That is post-op depression. For some it’s huge.  For me it’s a slight sidelight hardly worth mentioning, but yet, very important to mention…

We have spent an inordinate amount of time and energy planning, researching, questioning ourselves and preparing for transition – taking almost every second of our day and occupying our dreams at night.  Suddenly all that planning etc. is over, done, accomplished – even the dreams stop.  And here we are – marvelously and finally our true selves, whole at last – but all that action is gone, finished, leaving us somewhat devoid and that sends some into a depression or just feeling down.

I use the word ‘we’ as I’m mostly talking about others in the sisterhood (I use ‘sisterhood’ to mean all those that I went through SRS with plus many others that are post-op).

I’m quite active in a number of areas, so for me I was able to simply ease into a relaxed life.  The greatest effect for me was being physically handicapped and unable to do a lot of the outdoor activities I enjoy (hiking, climbing, swimming, kayaking etc.).  But I’m also creative, love learning and do a lot with computers.  So I have many ways that I find rewarding and fulfilling.  I also had spent a lot of time pre-op getting my psychological self in order.

In addition to this sudden lack of intense activity, there is a low level pain that is pretty constant for 4 to 6 months as down there is swollen and still healing. I can see the progress, but it is very slow, measured by the week – not the day.  This has a couple of effects for me.  First it either prevents me from doing activities I love or at best it makes me think twice if I should do something or not.  But the thought is constantly present.

When I was researching SRS, as I was initially looking into the possibility that I wanted to go that far.  I read about the maintenance that is required and was taken back by how much there was.  Dilation for the rest of your life is a big one especially when you understand what and how and how often it must be done.  Add to that the normal but new (for us) activities a woman has to routinely do:  cleanliness, pads/liners, checking yourself/making sure all is ok and how to use the restroom – how to sit, clean, even how to urinate.

All these take additional time that before we never had to even think about.  And now, the time to do all these duties constrains our ability to get into the things that bring us joy and keep us (anyone actually) happy and away from depression.

At times we feel so good, but then something else happens and back we go.  The pain will sometimes abate, only later to come back in a different form.  Just when we think things are getting better something else starts in.  This is a long journey – it’s takes a year to recover from an operation this massively huge.  But relapsing after feeling so good can be very difficult to take mentally.

So we have this seven pronged threat:

  • Intensive mental activity leading up to surgery
  • Physical handicap keeping us pent up and unable to do activities we enjoy
  • Constant low grade pain
  • Things taking so much longer to heal than expected
  • The new duties
  • Maintenance required with our new parts and the lack of time to do enjoyable activities that keep us out of depression
  • Relapses after things were going so good

In a way, it’s equivalent to soldiers coming back from a war.  It’s suddenly over but perhaps too suddenly.  Everything keeps going around in our heads.  It’s hard to let all of that go and settle down.  It happens just too fast.  And the ‘way of life’ is completely different.  Whereas there was so much to do before, now there is a lot to do, but it is totally different.

For my sisters:  this is much larger than you think or possibly can imagine.  This is more than a change of your physical sex.  It’s more than just living as the opposite gender.  It’s also more than how society views you or more importantly, your own insecurities and fears. In addition to all of that, this is a profound life style change – right down to how you ‘wipe’ yourself in the restroom!

My advice for those that are contemplating SRS:  Do your due diligence in researching this.  Join online groups and social media that are targeted for pre-op’s.  Once you settle on a surgeon – ask that clinic what pre-op and post-op social media they have and get invited to those (these are almost always private).  Once connected – read back one year to get a good clear idea of what you are going to face.  You will read about complications, about troubles and issues, but also about marvelous achievements and proud moments.  A word of caution:  everyone is different both in what they experience and the timing for various healings to take place.  Take it all with a grain of salt as they say.  But at least you will have a better idea of the full spectrum of possibilities and outcomes.

A bit of a soapbox moment:  I saw so many sisters that carried high sexual expectations once they completed surgery.  It bears mentioning that around 50% of women (gender) born female (birth sex) ever have an orgasm.  A transsexual after completing SRS is no different and has the same statistics!  We are all sensate (feelings and able to have an orgasm) – but the big ‘O’ is more than just being sensate.  It requires a heavy mental aspect as well.  What it requires is an opening up, being in tune with your body and being calm mentally and letting go.  All of which are completely opposite of what is required of a man and is therefore even more difficult for a transsexual.  My soapbox is this – do NOT go into this for sexual reasons.  You really should only be doing this because you have a deep down need to have your life be congruent, to be whole, to embody the essence of who you are.  Let the rest come – it will.

For most males (birth sex) under the ‘influence’ of testosterone, they have an almost daily urge.  For me this was confusing and at odds to the woman (gender) that I am.  Those urges caused a conflict in me as the male influence of testosterone had it’s way.  This is part of what I called the testosterone poisoning.  Getting on HRT and now completing SRS solved this and got that poison out of my system along with all of it’s effects.  Mind you, if you are a cis male (meaning your birth sex and gender match), testosterone is perfect and wonderful and I appreciate that in others.  However, for me, a transsexual, that was an awful burden that caused great disphoria and conflict.  Of course for some this is a concern – will they still have sexual urges after HRT and SRS?  And for a lot of sisters going through SRS this translated to worries about size/depth (again think testosterone – how many males do you know that are concerned with ‘size’ …) and orgasmic potential (especially after being able to, on demand).  Granted, for those that are young and have or will have a male partner, these things are important – I’m not saying otherwise.  I’m saying these should not be the top priority nor the reason for coming this far.

You are changing into a female (you are already a woman). Your body is now going to act and respond as one.  This includes the much more subtle urges, the relaxed sexual tension (compared to before) and a completely different way that we orgasm.  Many worry (I did) about how will we be satisfied if perhaps we can not orgasm or as often and ‘easily’ as we could before.  When you come out of the ‘testosterone fog’ and into femaleness, the urges change too.  In other words, you are now a female and your urges and abilities will match a female’s as well – do not fret over this, let it happen.  Let me put this yet another way:  your new body and self will match … perfectly!

And for those that have had surgery:  This is HUGE!  You had a major surgery – it does things to your body that take a long long time to heal.  You might feel ok at the moment – but is it not finished.  We need to take this one day and one thing at a time.  Conquer it and it alone, then focus on the next.  Don’t get overwhelmed – it’s so easy to do.  This is going to take up to a year – all the adjustments, all the issues that come up – both physical and mental.  So many times, the clinic has told us – recovery is 90% mental and it’s very true.  I remember the first time I saw blood on my dilator – omg I went crazy worried.  I reread the ‘manual’ the clinic sent me a dozen times.  Did what they said – and no problem.  But the mental anguish was difficult.  Of course now I just put pressure on the spot (always a granulation) and it’s gone and done – not a biggie.  And that is how most of recovery has to be dealt with.  One day at a time, one thing at a time and put-in the time!

For some, this is a difficult period and an unexpected complication.  I have a feeling that this may have been the reason two people I know of that committed suicide. So this is serious.  If this is you – please, there is so much help out here – reach out – please ….  There are a lot of us that have been through this – we made it, it’s more than possible – it’s just more hard work.

With so much Aloha

Sifan

 

Pono

Another incredible experience: Today is my last day here in Chonburi (unless a certain typhoon that is scheduled to land at Tokyo the same time our plane does – actually does …. grrrr).

So today I had the last visit by the staff. Again, I do not want to mention her name because all of them are so very special, so this post is dedicated to staff of Dr. Suporn’s clinic.

She made a comment about my optimism and enthusiasm – about how that has helped the staff to remember just how much of an impact they make. It is so difficult and hard to work with people from all over the world, all of different cultures and personalities. Some not prepared psychologically – not about transition – but about being in a situation far away from home, having such a radical surgery performed, being in a foreign culture (maybe for their first time) – all these things add up and a person can become quite negative and demanding.

But this staff tries hard, not just surgery related, but as a helping hand, someone to listen to, someone to give advice and help, especially in this culture.

I can commiserate with them: for 13 years I was a director of international training. I was overseas 1 out of every 5 weeks! One heck of a lot of travel. Many time, the overseas offices in the entire region would send their students to where ever I was teaching. For example, if I was teaching in Singapore, the Thailand office, the Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, and Tokoyo offices would send their students to Singapore or where ever I was.

As a result, I was the ‘only’ common person they had with the country and culture of that venue. I had to not only teach, but take care of these people – much like the staff here does for us. Same as the staff here, personalities range from demanding to enthusiastic. I have first hand experience of what they do and I commend them highly! It can be so difficult.

Ok, small story: was teaching in London and had a handful of French students in the class. They ‘hated’ English food – so who did they ask for suggestions and help – me. That was scary: an American giving culinary advice to the French – the top of the list experts on food !! They liked it, only one hitch: the English always have a condiments tray that has about 5 different mustards, etc., one of these was called ‘French’ mustard. Oh boy – the comments: “Dis is NOT ze French Muesterd ….” etc.

Can’t help it – another small story:  I was teaching in Seoul, Korea in the winter.  We had people from all over the region including Singapore up there.  For many of the Singaporeans, this was their first taste of very cold weather.  Well on the 2nd day of training, they are all looking to the front of class but I’m looking out at them and the windows beyond, and noticed it started to snow.  I stopped the class and brought the people from Singapore outside to experience the very first snow fall in their lives!  What an experience to watch the joy and happiness in their faces!

One only has to look at the experiences and blogs of others that have had surgery else where, especially in the US with it’s tight Insurance grip resulting in minimization of expenses, to see how wonderful we have it here in Chonburi. Back there, they do not have a clinic staff to hold our hands, sit with us all night after the surgery, pick us up, arrange medicine and care in the middle of the night …. etc.

So once again, I am thrilled that someone noticed kindness and joy and as she said – brings back the feelings of why they choose to be and do what they do – to balance out their hardships with others and to again demonstrate how much of a difference they make in the lives of others.

And for me – what an affirmation of my spirit – that for me, is the best and most important experience I take away. I, in some small way have helped.

In Hawaii we have a saying about pono (do what is right and show respect) and do everything with and always show aloha (love):

“When a person is Pono they have the feeling of contentment that all is good and all is right in their life, a life of full integrity: Ma‘alahi is a Hawaiian word we’ll often use to describe this feeling, for it’s “a pervasive persuasion toward calm, peace, and serenity.”

With much aloha,
Sifan Kahale
Hoku Wahine (Hawaiian: literally “star woman, eg. woman astronomer)

Transition: Mental and Physical

I just had an incredible experience: Dr. Suporn’s clinic staff make daily rounds between 10am and noon. I’m not going to mention her name because what I’m going to say applies to all of them.

This was her last time she was going to see me (as they take rotations and I’m leaving on Monday). So she took extra time to sit and talk.

This was unexpected – she thanked me for my positive attitude and optimism. I can only imagine the range of people and personal issues they have to deal with and this is what I want to share with everyone: this staff goes so far beyond just simple care, they truly are amazing. To me, this was a high complement – it’s also means that I really did touch others here – I hope I was able to make my trans-sisters more comfortable but also the staff and everyone else.

Yes, everyone has different experiences – but think about what the staff has to do (and what they have to put up with). And they do it with love and a smile!

You know – it’s sort of like my last post about being able to tolerate pain having a down side. Dr. Suporn’s surgery is (for a lot of us) almost pain free – it’s like little has happened. We get back to the hotel feeling so good and ready to party on the town, not fully taking into account the 7 hour surgery, 7 days in a hospital, etc. And then those that do, get in trouble.

I remember Dr. Suporn’s words about mentally relaxing and not worrying etc. that a lot of this has to do with the inside aspects of ourselves. And that brings up another huge issue: this is both MENTAL and PHYSICAL. You have to ‘solve’ both of these for yourself. His surgery solves the physical – if you are not mentally ready – after surgery you are now going to have to deal with the other half.

I was fortunate. I had a great therapist and worked on the mental aspects of this for more than 10 years. This surgery was the icing on the cake as they say. The night before surgery is when the final pieces of the physical aspects came into sharp focus. See “Why have Surgery” for more on that.

That was the big message the person from the clinic and I came to this morning – being prepared both mentally and physically for this.

And I really do hope that I shed cheer and happiness to those around me – to me, that is an important aspect of my life.

With much aloha,

Sifan
“Hoku Wahine” (literally: star woman, eg female astronomer)