Boiled in Oil
Part Two: Broken Promises
Dancing to a Different Tune
November 1, 1993
Guess what! I had ANOTHER dream Friday night that was even weirder than the last one! I was out with Chris and his family window shopping at night (which we did in real life last week.) In the dream, we went into a knife shop. Word came over the radio that a cruel gang of killer thieves was coming into the area.
We all began to look for knives to defend ourselves. I looked to Chris for help, but he was all wrapped up in finding his own weapon and ignored me. I looked down and found what appeared to be the perfect knife, judging by its handle which was sticking out of the sheath. I pulled it out only to discover it was a practice knife that had a dull, fat blade, rusted with rivets in it. The second promising knife turned out the same.
Just then, the gang of theives burst in the door! Their attention was elsewhere, so I snuck out the door. Just as I was about out, one of them saw me and gave chase. I ran around a corner and again, they barely saw me. I ran around another corner and the same thing.
Finally, I ran past a chain link fence and around a concrete pillar. I ducked behind the hollow pillar and would have been safe, except a nervous guy (Horshack from "Welcome Back Kotter") ducked in there with me and wouldn't shut up! Finally, he was quiet, but the gunman chasing me came right there anyway. (Later, when I woke up, I realized that Horshack was actually one of them, stationed outside to tag along with anyone who ran out, and he had a homing device on him.)
The thieves took me down to an underground subway station and set me on a couch next to a guy that was a cross between the actors Michael Ironside and Richard Lynch. They brought out a drugged naked woman and some body parts (torso and stuff) that had been hacked from two other women, and dumped them by a drain on the tile floor.
Then they brought out a big green plastic trash bag with something moving inside. They dumped it out. It was mostly shaped like a man, with arms and legs, but was lime green and dripping with slime. And instead of a head, it just had a three foot neck that ended in an opening like a big hose.
The hose/mouth sniffed around, caught the scent of the naked women, slithered of to them and consumed them. Then, I was told I had to have oral sex with the Ironside/Lynch guy, or the same would happen to me. So I did. While I was doing it, he felt down and realized I as TS because I hadn't had the second stage cosmetic surgery. He asked if that was true. I said yes, and he said that was okay because it made me more rare. And then I woke up!
I have NEVER had a dream like THAT before!!! So, I went to Andy's the very next night. There on the table were two knives, just like the ones in my dream - I mean almost exactly! I looked over and next to the bed was a three foot tall doll that Andy keeps on display. He had dressed it in the same color green outfit! AND, HE HAD TAKEN ITS HEAD OFF to make some repairs - so just the open neck was there. WEIRD!!!
Well, I knew the practice knives in the dream came from other knives I had seen at the Tai Chi class Andy goes to, and represented his not being the real thing for me. And I knew that the green "headless" man was Andy, because he is so much into Ireland (green), won't make love to me (headless), and devours women (and part women!) because they are vulnerable to his charms. I also realized that instead of being neuter as in my previous dreams, in this one was was very definitely female, which is a clear change in my underlying sense of self.
Last night, Andy and I went out for tacos at 2 AM and then talked until 5 again. He told me his feelings and I told him mind, and I understood with certainty what a dead-end street this relationship was. So, this morning, after only two hours sleep, I left instead of waiting until noon to take him to his Tai Chi class as I usually do. I told him it just hurt too much to be that close to him when I knew nothing was going to happen.
I called him when I got home, and told him that we could still do our business stuff together if he wanted, and be friends and visit and date, but I wouldn't be staying the night anymore. It's time to move on.
I felt so good after this. All the troubles that seemed so insurmountable in many other areas suddenly seemed manageable. My cheery disposition has returned as if by magic. I see now that the way my mind works, when I have inequity in one area and can't bring myself to deal with it, I slop a little bit of the feelings into all the other areas of my life, screwing everything up a bit instead of focusing on where the problem really is.
Now that I know this, I think I can be on guard for it in the future. Whenever things seem to be going bad all over, I'll stop and try to focus on where the problem really is and deal with it.
Anyway, Andy was fine with what I said. I have no way of knowing if he will decide to be around a lot, a little, or not at all. Regardless, I think I'll just concentrate on my family for the holidays, then go "hunting" come the first of the year.
November 3, 1997
I remember when I was directing my first feature film, right out of USC. We built a miniature set of a haunted mine shaft in Chris' garage. To give the miniature a spooky effect, we needed to fill the garage with fog. We couldn't afford REAL fog machines, but my other partner, Mark, had a rescue flare from his dad's boat.
We shut the garage door, got the camera ready, and set it off. The thing billowed noxious orange smoke that stung our eyes and lungs. But we had to get the shot because it was our only flare. So, we stayed in there breathing that stuff for about half an hour. Afterward, I went to take a shower. My clothes were orange. Even my underwear was orange! For the rest of the day I sneezed orange snot. (My that's gross, but it's true!)
I don't know, but that was in 1979... check with me in 1999 and see if we've all developed some strange disease!
Speaking of strange diseases, Andy is over tonight. Oh, I'm sorry. That's not nice. But you'll notice I didn't erase it.
November 15, 1993
This is the second weekend I haven't stayed over at Andy's house, and I miss it already! But I'm holding out. There are three guys who are taking an interest in me at the square dance class. One is old enough to be my dad, but he still cuts a figure. Another is one of those guys who can't stop talking and is in your face all the time. The third man, however, is a science writer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I gave him my number, and he called me at work. We had a really pleasant conversation.
Two days later, I received from him a two page handwritten letter. He was really interested, and I could tell he would be asking me out soon. But then I began to worry. Would I hurt him if I went out with him and then later revealed my past? Would I drive him away if I told him in advance?
I knew I needed to respond to his letter, but had no idea what to say. Then, I ran across Chris' brother, Richard, who works at the office as a manager. I explained the situation to him. He thought a moment, then said that I shouldn't say anything in advance, but should tell him sometime during the first date that I have a skeleton in the closet, but don't want to discuss it now. I just want him to know there is something in my past so that he won't be too hurt if we get close later.
I trust Richard's insight, so I wrote a reply to my potential new boyfriend that is guaranteed to get him to ask me out. Soon, I'll be going on my first date with a man who doesn't know about my past.
About this time I wrote a couple of editorials about my feelings for the cyberzine I edit called The Subversive. I'm including them here as they express a lot of what I was going through.
"Skeletons In The Closet You Came Out Of"
I've never danced before. Oh, sure, a little disco but nothing organized. Well, I take that back... I did TRY dancing once: country line dancing with my writing partner Chris. He is an excellent dancer and invited me along one evening to join him. I was awful. No two ways about it, I couldn't put one foot in front of the other to music.
This isn't a new thing with me - I've ALWAYS been an awful dancer. I'm not uncoordinated, mind you, and manage all kinds of complex physical maneuvers that don't occur to music (no nookie jokes, please!) However, slap the label "dance" on it and suddenly I go into disjointed spasms. Obviously its not a lack of ability, but some kind of anxiety at work here.
The first time I can recall feeling this way was in elementary school when we had to learn those stupid little, cute little Spring Dance routines. We would practice every day for several minutes. I WAS TERRIFIED!!! Why? Because I already felt rejected for who I was inside (a little girl) and was struggling so hard to fit in as a little boy. I studied all their moves in kickball, conversation, even just walking around. I mean here's this little kid maybe seven years old trying to copy the other little boys so that "he" won't be rejected anymore.
Trying to dance was the worst of it. It wasn't just the steps, but the cocky lean that the other boys put into it. Inside, I actually liked dancing, but if I let myself go I acted like a girl and got ridiculed. So not only were there all these steps to learn, but I had to try to hide my natural reaction to the music and copy and fake what the other boys were doing all at the same time. It wasn't long before I was petrified to be a part of this devastating web of self-created responsibilities.
The most hated of all dances was The Square Dance (note the capital letters!) To me, this was the epitome of challenge from which failure was a higher fall. This was due to the distinct separation between male and female roles of participation. Boys did THIS and girls did THAT. So, I was really on the spot. I would be compared DIRECTLY to the other boys even while being exiled from the role I truly wanted.
All this left its mark. I avoided dancing all of my male years, being forced into it only at my senior prom and my wedding reception. In contrast, my Life Partner, Mary, LOVED square dancing and needled me for years to go with her to try it out. I adamantly refused, and in fact, never went with her at all.
Here is where it might have remained had not Mary decided a couple months ago to join a square dance class on her own. (Although anchored together, being a family of two women has nudged us into exploring some activities as solo acts, rather than as a couple.) After two weeks, she utterly surprised me by asking if I would like to join her in the next class.
Now this was strange enough, as one of her original reasons for going was to meet guys, and my presence would be an odd addition to that effort. But even more strange, I was amazed to discover that I actually wanted to go. Somehow, having lived on this side of the fence for a while, my desire to dance was beginning to return.
So, I joined Mary and was pleased to find that not only did I enjoy the class, but was not half bad at it either! In fact, square dancing is quite fun. (Boy, when they swing you around with a courtesy turn and your skirt takes to the wind with their hand firmly guiding you on the small of your back... Ooo La LA! - oops, wrong dance... but the feeling's the same!)
Anyway, all this that I have told you is my meandering way of setting the stage for the real heart of this little essay. (I originally was going to call it, "Back to Square One", but then I would have had to end the story around here somewhere, and that not what I really wanted to talk about!)
Okay, so you sit there in class and the guys come over to you and ask if they can have the next "tip" (or dance). Often, you get booked up early with guys asking at the beginning of the evening for the 3rd tip or the 5th. After a while the same guys kinda gravitate toward you so you spend more time with the same partners.
Mary and I pass ourselves off as room mates. She takes the kids (in explaining our history) and I am a bachelorette. We use different last names. This works fine most of the time, but we do have to watch what we say.
Of course, Mary and I are both cruising for guys as well, so sometimes it gets interesting when the same guy is interested in both of us and we have to fight over him. Nothing nasty mind you, just trying to out flirt the other one - a friendly rivalry.
Well, even that was okay because it was just during the dancing. But in the last two weeks some of the guys have figured they have known us long enough and are starting to move in. Now, let me explain something about the guys who come to square dances. Most of them are either 80 years old, or fat or ugly or slouched over or obnoxious. One or two are okay. There's nobody there to die for. Still, an okay guy is better than no guy, so that direction of thinking does have fodder for the heart.
One of the guys who came on to me reminds me of Segourney Weaver's tax consultant neighbor in ghost busters. He just comes on strong, monopolizes the conversation and sort of buzzes around you like a lecherous humming bird. Last week it took me five minutes to break away from his conversation so I could go home.
But the good news is, a really nice guy showed up two weeks ago for the first time. He is an experienced dancer, just coming to brush up a bit. I won't say too much about him that might identify him, so as not to violate his privacy to others. What I CAN say is that he can turn you in a spin like NOBODY can! I had trouble with the spins until him.... not anymore!
Anyway, we talked a lot that night and struck it off well. We had a lot in common, including his being a writer. So, I gave him my business card and invited him to call me about the writer's software program I am co-developing. A few days later, he DID call. This was a real kick! I've spent time with a number of guys, but none who were unaware of my past. This nice guy just knew me as Melanie the story theorist and liked me for that alone.
(Now you see how we are working up to Skeletons In The Closet You Came Out Of, eh what?) So, we talked and had a good conversation. I helped keep it going because I wanted to have this thing progress a bit. Well, it did. A couple days later, I got a two page handwritten letter from him, telling me a bit about himself, his work, and his interests.
One might think that I would be overjoyed at this. I tried to be, I really did... but I began to get depressed instead. This is a NICE guy - a guy who is a gentleman, who lives alone, who has got to be lonely and is attracted to me. When I tell him about my past, he's going to be hurt. No doubt about it. So, what do I do? Never date guys who don't know? Hope that my notoriety from the story development software program precedes me to the point that I become a celebrity transsexual so EVERYONE knows and I don't have to worry about it?
You see, I just don't want to hurt him or anybody else. But I don't want to only date people from the gender community either. The way I figure it, if I had divorced Mary and moved out, I could claim that whole previous life was behind me. I could even deny it if I wanted (though that is not my way). Still, when I told him, there would be no visible evidence of my past, no lingering remnants - just the new Melanie that he is attracted to. Then, I could deal with telling him and know that it wouldn't hurt him as much, since it is all in the past.
But by staying with my family, my past is carried over into the present. I sleep in the same bed with Mary, we co-own the home, we have a family here! Sounds like I should just settle down and not date, right? But how in blazes can I have gone through all the pains of transition and not seek its ultimate rewards. When I am in the arms of a man, well, that's heaven. But I love Mary too!
So, as you can see, I got depressed, chasing my mental tail. And then, I had an inspiration... Why not ask a GUY!!! Chris was in Paris on vacation, so I tracked down his VERY male brother (Otter) who also works at the company. He and I share problems from time to time, so I hit him with this one. He said that there definitely WAS something I could do to limit how much hurt my fellow would feel and would still allow me to date.
Otter said that a guy just needs to know there is danger lurking so he can be ready when it comes. He said that one my first date, if it looks like things will continue, I should tell any guy that I have a few skeletons in my closet that I don't want to talk about now, but just wanted him to know so that he won't be hurt later. He said that guys will hold back a bit of their heart when they hear this. They will either demand to be told right then and there or no more momentum, or they will keep a little wall around their heart until they find out later. If they need to know right now, I can tell them and take my chances or I can decline and not continue the relationship, depending on if I want them blabbing it all around or not. Well, with Mary and myself in the class for the next five months, I don't want anything blabbed that would ruin it for the two of us, so I will decline. However, I think it is only moral (to me) to tell the guy the whole truth BEFORE you become intimate. Anything less than honesty at that time would (for me) be crossing the line.
But, I wasn't completely convinced (never having thought like a man and therefore unable to judge the accuracy of Otter's statement as a truism for all or most men. So, I went home and asked my 14 year old son, Keith (who is all full of hormones these days) if what Otter said was true. He told me that ABSOLUTELY it was true! He said, "Let me give you an analogy" and explained that if a guy is walking down the street and gets jumped, he is really injured because he didn't see it coming. But if a guy goes down the street KNOWING someone is going to jump him, he can be prepared. Even though he'll get beat up some, at least he was ready for it, and that's all a guy really wants.
Well, I've never felt like that. I don't know if its me, or if its just a difference between men and women. But I do believe that it works for guys. So, I sat down and wrote out a friendly one page letter to my new friend on pretty stationery and dropped in the mail two days ago. Tomorrow is the next class. He said in his letter he would be there. I fully expect him to ask me out sometime during the evening, and I will say yes. And when we are on our first date, if it is going well, I will find the moment to tell him I have a skeleton in my closet. And if he can wait to find out what it is, and we approach intimacy, I will tell him that it is the closet I came out of and hope for the best.
"What Comes After"
There is a tendency, when changing sex, to stare into a blank wall. The mind propels itself forward only to the moment of completion, then falls short of the other side, plunging instead into an abyss of uncertainty. One entertains fantasies of the life that will be without truly considering what will become. It is as if the Dreamer takes a tangent path like an illusionist's left hand, distracting the audience of our conscious from what the right hand is doing. Transition happens right before our eyes, yet we see it not: our attention is elsewhere.
What Comes After is not fantasy. It is not dreams or speculations. The reality of the New Life is not unlike the old one, yet so much different.
I have been reading "Orlando" of late, written by Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself in 1941). Losing myself in the twisted, ornate passages, I can see why. Orlando succombs to the same foggy urging of an emotional imperitive that I, myself, have suffered in the vortex, caught up between the masculine and feminine on the way from male to female; sometimes touching down in one land, other times remaining aloft in uncertain currents for weeks, only to alight once more precisely where I started. No doubt, Miss Woolf suffered similarly.
Orlando is a young nobleman, as we meet him. He is wealthy, respected, able, and lost. He can find no meaning or solice in his fotune, station, deftness or love. He leaves his country as Ambassador to forget his lack of focus through imersion in details of protocol. And there, in another land, he awakens one day to find himself female - yet, surpisingly, unperterbed by the fact. Through three centuries, Orlando seeks self-knowledge: some scale by which her essence can be weighed. She rises in society, then cavorts with call girls; expresses the essence of femininity, then dresses as a man to move more freely in the world.
From the Elizabethan Age through the Restoration and on to the Victorian Age, Orlando remained essentially unchanged; experiencing the same feelings from another point of view - but the person themselves continued unaltered. "And so she began...thinking...how very little she had changed all these years.", muses Orlando at the hand of Woolf. "She had been a gloomy boy, in love with death, as boys are; and then she had been amorous and florid; and then she had been sprightly and satirical; and sometimes she had tried prose and sometimes she had tried the drama. Yet through all these changes she had remaind, she reflected, fundamentally the same."
These thoughts have been my own. How I have suffered that I feel unaltered in spirit, indentical in outlook to he whom I have supplanted. How hard I have yearned for a sense of difference. Where is the change I risked so much to attain? When can I call myself "woman"?
"'After all', she thought, getting up and going to the window, 'nothing has changed.'", says Orlando. "The house, the garden are precisely as they were. Not a chair has been moved, not a trinket sold. There are the same walks, the same trees, and the same pool, with, I dare say, the same carp in it." My own diary mirrors Orlando's words: "Its strange to contemplate that someday, the changes I have set in motion may seem commonplace. The strangeness of my new body has become its normal feel, and the question, even awareness of what sex I am, what gender, never enters my conscious thought. What then of my life? The wind still blows, the sun still shines."
Where is the future I stuggled so hard to achieve? I am still married to the same woman I have been with for almost 18 years. My children have grown some, but they are essentially the same. I live in the same house, visit the same friends, play the same games, both for fun and emotionally. Where is the change? When will I get there? When will I be a woman?
My friends say they first noticed it maybe a year to only six months ago. That would be about one year to 18 months after surgery. I only noticed it in the last month or so. All the little, slow moving things that add up to a big holistic change. In and of themselves, none are particularly noteworthy or noticeable, yet taken together, the overall effect is both substantial and basic.
Every part of how I measure who I am from the kinds of thought I entertain to the emotional responses that just happen to the physical shape and feel of my body to the level of my strength and the way my "insides" feel (from heartburn to exhaustion) have all moved just far enough from my former self to have stretched the rubber band of recognition so far that it snaps back with, "This is not the same person as the one you had in mind." I other words (fewer words!) I have changed gradually so much that who and what I am now can no longer be defined as who I was by any measurement. The stretchy state of shifting spectrum eventually has to result in red becoming purple, then blue, then green, then yellow. Yet, where upon that spectrum one becomes the other is a fool's consideration. Still, somewhere, somewhen, one wakes up, stares at the rainbow and says, "Well, yep. I used to be red, but damned if I'm not yellow now!" So, that's the story - its not specific effects, but the holographic effect of all the little standing waves in the interference pattern of the dynamic process of change that have taken on a different pseudo-structure. I no longer entertain any doubt that I am Melanie now, not Dave. And such odd juxtapositions as conversations with old friends upon memories of the way we used to talk, getting made up in the mirror and then viewing a video tape from Christmas of five years ago, recalling an unfinished thought from before transition and realizing the logic no longer makes sense - all these little signs force one to accept that the self has shifted, though still feels like self.
Then one has a choice of becoming scared and scampering, terrified, back along the path that is no longer there (as it is erased behind our heels as we journey) until we are lost and cold and alone OR ignoring the end of the road and pushing on past the light into the heart of yet another jungle OR "getting it" - that one has actually become. Becoming is no longer required. Transition never changes, it just changes direction. To stand at the corner of "Male" and "Transition" streets and take a left turn onto "Female" requires not becoming, but being. Two years after surgery (this January 9th). FOUR years after beginning to live as Melanie. SIX years after seriously considering this path. All the magic numbers line up - they have to: they're magic numbers! And when totalled, they add up to one. Me.
And what of Orlando? What of Woolf? Well, Orlando finds her answer, laying entwined in the roots of the same Oak tree she sat by as a boy - the Oak tree that has proven her only consistent focus throughout the turmoil of her self-consideration. Her eyes fly wide, her yearnings stop, her happiness begins. But Virginia does not share this revalation with us - it is for Orlando alone. Perhaps because the author had not found it for herself; perhaps because we all must find it for ourselves.
So, in the end it is not a change in our selves we must seek, but a change in our sense of ourselves. We will always feel like we no matter how different we become. Yet, we can stand back from ourselves, take a wider view, sense not the flow of one day into another but the dividing lines of months and years. We carry the past with us like a big tail - the wake of a boat, not sure if we should judge our path by the waves off the stern or the stars off the bow - and unsure if we are wagging the tail or it is wagging us.
"Am I pretty?" (Compared to what?) "Am I old" (When?) "Am I a woman?" (Says, who?) You'll stare into that brick wall, chasing your tail and leaving circular wakes until you get it: the wall moves with you. It is the horizon line of self awareness and we can't see anything beyond that. But we don't need to because its really just a matter of focus. For when we shift our view from the spatial "Who am I?" to the temporal "Who am I NOW?", then we see that the wall is really not a wall at all, but a mirror. And the edges of our own self awareness are not the ends of the earth, but the shape of things that came.
So, "Who am I?" becomes "How am I?", describing the the process, not the state. Being a woman is not a condition but a way of life. It is not a structure, but a dynamic. We will never find the answer until we realize that it lies in the kinds of questions we ask. We self-define; we are recursive, reflexive, and reflective. The farther away something appears, the closer it is to home. The wall before us in only dark because it is a mirror. The shining light at the end of the tunnel is the sparkle in our own eyes. Look deep into that light and see yourself.
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