Book Four:

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After Life

by Melanie Anne

Part One: Hell

Chapter 71

Stokin'!

October 21, 2005

10:17 a.m.

An email letter I just sent to my daughter in response to her daily inquiry how we are both doing:

Well, I actually got a pretty good night's sleep last night.  We went to bed at around 10ish, and though Teresa was up a few times, by the morning, she was able to go to the rest room quite safely on her own, and also now takes all her pills on her own as well.  So, I was able to get almost three hours sleep straight through in one chunk at the end, just getting up at about 9:15.  I may have actually gotten a total of 8 hours last night, instead of 8 hours over a 96 hour period as it was!

Teresa is resting easier with all the bandages off her head and the drainage tubes and IV gone.  She has one terrific headache, but the pain pills help quite a bit with that.  Her energy level is much better, and she is alert more often and getting back to her old self conversationally.

But facially, she is so different!  There are some elements, even swollen that are, well, "reminiscent" of the old Teresa.  Can't think of another way to describe it. She seems more like Teresa's cousin, or a non-twin sister, or maybe a sister by her mom from a previous marriage.  There are some touch points, but a lot of different stuff.

One thing for sure - her main goal of looking "genetic" was accomplished absolutely.  Even all swollen up and puffy, there isn't a person on the planet who would even think to consider she wasn't a woman - it just wouldn't even come close to coming to mind.  She looks like she was born to this life.  And, I have to admit to being a little jealous!

I wish I had that confidence.  I wish I had a physical change like that that I could rely on to assure me that no matter how much I might feel on a given day that I was guy-ish, that my face had been actually physically altered to the extent that I would know no one could possibly see me as the way I felt.  That would make the feelings just go away, and I could face every day with a confidence I've never had.

But, I can't wallow in that.  Objectively, I look in the mirror and don't see a problem, especially since I have lost so much weight.  I still have 15 more pounds to go, and hope that once all the weight is gone, the feelings are gone as well.  And there are many back-up plans as well, such as a little face lift on the ol' jowls, perhaps a little chem peel on some areas around my upper lip and chin that was damaged by electrolysis, and stuff like that.

I don't really want to change anything about my face.  I just want to get the same feeling of confidence inside, like Teresa can have now.

So, I'm not tearful about it anymore, but I do know exactly what the issue is - just to feel that no matter what the lighting conditions, how tired I may be, or any other situation, just as it will soon be for Teresa, that I can be confident no matter how guy-ish I may feel inside on any given day, I will know absolutely and objectively that no one sees me that way from the outside.

Much improved from the other day when you so graciously let me bend your ear for so many hours.

Thanks again , Minz, both for Teresa and myself.  ( She feels so much love for you for coming and helping, and has spoken much of it yesterday and today).

Love,

Meems

10:58 a.m.

Here at Cocoon House – which is a wonderful place to recover, by the way – the whole thing belongs to, and is run by two RNs, who also take care of the trash, clean the bathrooms, and provide shampoos after surgery, as well as keeping the place stocked with all manner of soft foods and a variety of drinks.  They go on vacation once or twice a year, and when they do, a friend of their from Vancouver, Canada (named Terri), stays here to provide the services.  We arrived while Terri was on the job, and the two RNs will be back on Sunday for the last few days before we leave.

Terri was in just after I wrote my letter to my daughter, and she and Teresa and I had a very pleasant extended conversation that leaped across a number of subjects from the new museum that just re-opened in San Francisco, to life in Canada, to everyone’s various experiences with bears while hiking in the wilderness.

Just before her arrival, I had mentioned the letter to Teresa, and I decided the time was right to share the concerns I had been dealing with for my own search for the same inner confidence she had undergone surgery to achieve.  I figured that she is alert enough, and upbeat enough, and has seen my love an support in action enough that I could share my “Loved-One’s Journey” with her as it has meandered in and around the days on either side of her surgery.

Apparently, I was correct.  It was a good time, perhaps the best time, neither too early in the game to be taken as a positive, nor too late to have any effect of offsetting earlier negatives that had built up and lingered.

I had just gotten started when Terri showed up, so we put the conversation on hold for 20 minutes until she left.  Then, Teresa brought it up again and asked me to continue (caring partner that she is!).  So, I went through the key steps in the emotional and self-focused exploration of the last few days.

And as I spoke, my confidence in a grand future, my surety of our love for each other, continued to grow, until by the end of my monolog, I had arrived at a clear, powerful, and organized understanding of where this five year experience of dealing with Teresa’s need for surgery has led me personally.

Here is how it stands as of this moment:

Stripping all the window dressing away, there is only one issue I have, and it is the same as the one that drove Teresa to such a radical surgery.  I also, just want to be “genetic.”

Now, those who know me or who see my picture on the internet would laugh to consider that I would ever feel anything but identical in all respects to a genetic woman.  But remember, pictures on the internet are not selected for accuracy, but for putting one’s best face forward.  And the person you meet face to face, still has to get up, brush hair, put on make-up, dandy up in cute clothes, all to create an “image” that they wish to project.

In these situations, you don’t see what that person’s face looks like under fluorescents, or with harsh sun coming in the side window as you drive, or after a sleepless night as you stare in the mirror, or when you have put on thirty extra pounds.

And those close enough to actually see you under those conditions won’t be seeing the objective you that people see on the street, but the subjective you, which includes not only your appearance, but their memories of how you look in better situations, their knowledge of the person living inside that skin, and all clouded over by their love for you.

So, in public, you get positive feedback from the glimpses you show, in private you get positive feedback from the sum total of all that you are.  But what about all the glimpses you haven’t shown on the internet – the ones that you see in the mirror when no one else is around – the ones that you see when shopping the supermarket amongst strangers, or going into a restaurant to order take-out food?

Who, but you, knows all the times you got strange looks, or got through a check-out counter line just fine, even starting a nice conversation with the cashier, only to have her expression and manner toward you change halfway through when she pays a little too much attention to your face.

That last paragraph is how I’ve felt for years, even on my best days.  I have always felt that no matter how “genetic” I might look walking on the other side of the street, I still have to be on guard for lighting conditions, facial expressions, and so on, when dealing with people close up.

Most of the time, these fears were unfounded.  Sometimes they were realized.  But if you go through your life with the certain knowledge that it is possible at all, under some conditions, to be read, then you can never relax, never just be yourself.  You can never take the chance.

So you live every day on guard, watching out for problem situations, keeping your radar going, looking for any sign that the jig is up.  And you get paranoid, assuming any prolonged staring is a sure indicator you’ve been found out, even if in reality it was only an admiring glance.

So there it is clearly – a description of the nature of the problem.  I had it mild, compared to Teresa, who had some very real and undeniable issues with the bone structure of her face.  On good days, she could go anywhere.  On bad days (bad either from actually not looking good or bad from having lost confidence to the point she would become stilted instead of feminine) she would be read, and big time.

I was content with my occasional bad days (though the more weight I put on, the greater the percentage of my days that were bad).  After all, I was with Teresa.  Clearly I was better off than her.  So when we went out together, nobody would be looking at me – they’d clock her before me, and if I saw it happening, I could just exude a little more feminine energy or use “the voice” to intentionally be overheard, thereby diverting any attention away from me and back to here (where I am tempted to say, “where it belongs.”  As rude as that is, that’s an honest appraisal of how I felt, or more appropriately, how I saw the pecking order.  After all, I was, as Teresa puts it, The “Great” Melanie, and all other transsexuals fall beneath my feet!)

I try not to buy into that celebrity stuff, but you know, if enough people cram it down your throat, you can’t help but choke on it once in a while, despite every intention not to swallow.

I guess we all the issue clearly now – to want to wake up every morning with no fear of being read, and to stay that way for the rest of your life.

We also see why I cried in Dr. O’s office five years ago when it looked like Teresa wasn’t going to be scared off by it, but actually try to go through with it.  My security blanket was torn away.  I had to face my own issues.  But I knew I really didn’t need that surgery, so how was I ever supposed to find a way to get over the feelings, and what would life be like, being left behind, all alone, living with a genetic woman while I would feel progressively more like a guy in drag.

Easy to see now, five years and many arguments later, and after days of intense experiences here, hours of conversations on the subject with my loved ones, and 42 pages of single-spaced typing in Microsoft Word.  Took that much to see it though.  But now, see it, I do.

And now that I see it, what do I do about it?  I may think I’ll buckle and give up.  I may even believe it.  I may even proclaim it.  But the fact of the matter is, in all my life, no matter how much I say I’m going to give up, in the end I never have – not once.

Based on half a century of unbroken experience then, I can only assume I won’t give up this time either.

So, in my conversation with Teresa, explaining all I said above, I continued with my series of steps and approaches I was going to take to find a way to feel genetic myself, so we could share that confidence together:

  1. Lose the weight I wanted to, and if that doesn’t work:
  2. Love more weight, going down to my lowest healthy level, and if that doesn’t work:
  3. Get a chemical peel on the areas of my upper lip and chin damaged by Andy when he was doing my electrolysis, and if that doesn’t work:
  4. Some collagen injections and wrinkle removing and other non-invasive anti-aging techniques, and if that doesn’t work:
  5. A lower jaw soft tissue face lift to pull up the signs of aging, and if that doesn’t work:
  6. Perhaps some level of surgery to feminize the face in places, and if that doesn’t work:
  7. Full-blown surgery like Teresa’s as a very last resort if I can’t live another day with the level of uncertainty about my appearance I still have after all those other steps have been completed.

There may be other intermediate steps to take, and other things to try.  But I won’t give up on getting rid of my fear – I won’t give up trying to find a way to feel confident that I am “genetic” wherever and whenever I go.

But I also won’t wallow in my misery, I won’t jump ahead of myself, impatiently skipping steps that might have worked.

No, I’m going to take this one point at a time, reevaluating my feelings at every juncture before considering whether or not to move on.

What is my realistic appraisal of how successful this will be?

I’ll give you this:  When I weighed 135 pounds right after SRS and again, just before the nose and boobs, I never had any feelings of not appearing genetic.  When I am below 165 pounds, I have very few days (ones that I have to be frowning all the time and without sleep) to have a chance of getting read, in my humble opinion.  Perhaps somewhere between the two weights is a point at which my fears vanish.  I actually expect the entire issue will be moot, once I get my weight low enough.

But, I am older now, and naturally more droopy of face.  So it may take additional steps.  What worked for me before, might not completely work now, even at 135 pounds.

We’ll just have to see.

But, all things considered, I am sure that somewhere along the line, I’ll cross that barrier between part-time confidence and all the time confidence, even if I have to potentially ruin a pretty face with FFS that really isn’t necessary, just to gain it.

How long with it take?  If solved, maybe only a few weeks.  To go through all the steps?  Maybe years, maybe never.

But not matter what, I won’t give up.  This is my last personal internal barrier to my own happiness, and I intend to thrash the living fuck out of it.

12:21 p.m.

Here’s a copy of an email I just wrote in response to a letter CCd to me by A, Teresa’s former fiancé, a good friend to us both, though I am the one who took her away from him.  We all hang out together for vacations and stuff, and all is wonderful between us, so mutual concern for each other is very high – like family.

In any event, here’s my letter to A:

Hi, A.  Teresa is doing fine, but too wiped out to come to the computer.  She gets up to use the rest room, and sits up to eat a little from time to time, but is kinda like the day after you stop throwing up from the flu - glad you are getting better, but weak as a kitten and no stamina at all.

You'll be amazed by her new look!  The old Teresa face is definitely gone forever.  She really looks more like a distant cousin of her former self, rather than even a closer relation like a sister or some such.

She has also become VERY pretty!  Even with all the swelling, you can tell by her bone structure and profile that she is going to be on hot tomato when she recovers completely.

I was telling her today that it is really peculiar to talk to her.  It is kind of like one of those brain-transplant stories, where the person you know is inside the body of a stranger, so you keep finding yourself missing the initial comfort of speaking with someone you know and feeling more like you are talking to new acquaintance.  In addition, when she jokes back and forth with you, it is almost like, who does this person think she is, being all familiar with me?!  And finally, when you do forget about her new, beautiful appearance and get caught up in the conversation, heart to heart as before, you suddenly look over at her face, and see this strange person there and find yourself asking, "How does this stranger know so much about me?  What's her game?  Where did she get that information, and why is she trying to pretend to be Teresa?"

Of course, the more time passes, the less intense that is.  And, it isn't any kind of a problem, just a real quirky feeling, like you stepped into the Twilight Zone or something.

In any event, her spirits are high, energy low, she is healing quickly, and the surgery was even far and away beyond a simple complete success.

Her wildest dreams have been far exceeded.

And that’s all from the home front for now….

Melanie

8:21 p.m.

Teresa continues to recover.  Despite my best efforts, I have, somehow, still slipped up and brought up my concerns for my own face.  I try so hard to keep from saying anything, but the pain inside wells up some times, and things just pop out, which I instantly regret, since it leads to a discussion about issues that threaten to undermine what should be Teresa’s happiest moments.

For example, this afternoon we ended up talking about how I had felt I was getting read for years, but never told her, because she really did look more mannish than me, and she was so paranoid and hurt by being read that she couldn’t face people at all.

So for almost nine years, I have been the only one to go to the store.  And up in PMC (Pine Mountain Club where we used to live and recently sold our house to pay for Teresa’s FFS), I related the truthful fact that I felt I got read EVERY time I went to that store for the whole five years we lived there except for perhaps two times.  That means that at least once a week, and often more, I went there to save her from the embarrassment, taking the feelings on myself instead.

What a horrible thing to say to someone who’s only three days post-op from FFS.  But the emotional pain I am suffering in my worst moments is simply to great to successfully keep inside all the time. 

God, the last thing I want to do is undermine her joy, or even threaten our relationship with emotional outbursts, no matter how true, that cause guilt.

I made these choices to not deal with my issues of wanting to be genetic so she could deal with hers for all those years. She didn’t know it, had no way of preventing it, and it is not her fault.  But I can clearly see how she would feel she was the instrument of my suffering, even though unintentional, and making her feel that way by talking about the truth of my feelings now just undercuts my own happiness with her in the future.

But how can I stop?

Teresa wasn’t the cause of these feelings.  When I met her, I only felt comfortable if I dressed the part of the fem woman.  When I first went to where she was living after just having met at my place, it was a civil war reenactment.  I dressed in jeans, something I had never done in all my years of transition or as a post-op because I needed the clothes to feel like a woman.

And yet, there were times after SRS when I would wear all kinds of things, and was confident in my look.  Like the time the crew at work went to an office beach party, and I went with my daughter, only 11 at the time, and wore a one-piece and was pretty comfortable – on the lookout for strange glances, but not feeling as if I was getting any.  And at the office Halloween party, I dressed in a gold metallic bikini and donned a blonde wig, and we absolutely sure I looked as female as anyone.

But it was always the clothes.  I always wear my hear down over my forehead in bangs.  I always wear feminine clothes.  I always smile, which makes my face less square.  I had gotten used to these things so much, that when I met Teresa, I was doing them as if they were my nature, when in reality, they were just my protections.

With Teresa, as the years passed, I knew I was loved for me, and became less and less inclined to go to such extremes to appear a particular way.  Rather, I wanted to just be me.  So I started wearing jeans all the time, stopped wearing makeup, and was less on top of my use of voice and grammar.

I became very much at ease in my presentation, but it got me read, so it seemed to me, everywhere it went.  But, if needed, I could always put on that smile, throw in some affectations, stand in a cute manner, and throw them off the scent.

That worked great until the monetary pressures of our lives put me under such tension that I started putting on weight.  And from the 165 I was when I met Teresa, I blossomed up to 181.

Those few pounds (since my idea weight is 140 to 150) threw the balance.  And no amount of smiling or feminine movement or voice use kept me from being read (as it seems to me).  Oh, people were generally nice, as Teresa even said tonight that it was for her) but just knowing that they figured you out is enough to make you feel so fake, like being a woman is play-acting, not who you are.

And this, for Teresa, was enough to drive her to thoughts of suicide unless she could get her FFS.  And all the time, I’m not dealing with my issues, not even realizing how intense they were, because I was wholly focused on her needs.

But now that she has taken care of them, I’m having a lot of bad moments.  I have cried three times today.  Sometimes I go into the restroom in our Cocoon House apartment and cry.  Sometimes I go in just to look at my face in the mirror.  I never considered my face to be masculine before.  But lately, it seems to me to be nothing but.

When I’m all dressed up and femmy, like at the hospital, I look in the mirror and see nothing but woman.  But when I relax back at the apartment and be myself, I see nothing but man.

I don’t want to hurt Teresa, rob her of happiness, and I really don’t want to feel this way about myself.  I keep wishing that it is just an empathy feeling I built up while trying to protect Teresa from being read for all those years, and that it really isn’t my problem at all.  But then, wouldn’t that make her feel even worse – that because of her problem, I developed the same problem for which she is now free?

And that IS a difficult thing for me.  I am so genuinely happy for her.  I know the depth of her suffering – I truly do.  And I know that before surgery, she couldn’t get dressed up like a woman, as I do, and be passable on a bad day.

But now…  Now she is 100% passable all the time in any condition, no matter what she wears or how she does her hair.  Whereas, I am still trapped, having to dress up as a woman to be seen as one, and the rest of the time, when I don’t consciously play a role, I get read as a man, just like any other female impersonator.

So, while I was holding Teresa’s hand in the bed a little while ago while we were watching Sci-Fi channel, I looked over and saw her smooth, female forehead, her newly beautiful eyes, enhanced by the lack of a bony hood.  I saw the shape of her cute nose under the splint, and the gentle curve of her feminine, unflared jaw and delicate chin.

And as I looked, I realized she was a woman all the time for all to see.  And my soulmate in this regard, had left me behind, left me alone, left me to remain a man in drag.

I laid my head back behind where she could see with her head propped up on the pillow as per doctor’s instructions, and began to sob.  But I couldn’t sob hard – she would have known, and then I would have had to explain, and then I would have made it worse and threatened our happiness yet again.

So I let the tears run down my cheeks, half hoping she wouldn’t find out, half hoping she would.  But I was successful.  She doesn’t know.  And I got up and came here to the computer to write more on this journal before she could discover the wet lines on my cheeks.

She’s gotten up now to go to the bathroom.  And she had previously sat at my computer for the first time to see if anyone had left any messages for or about her on the TG boards.  She found one from K about her meeting with us the other night, and left it open for me.

But, in my effort to appear not interested in any of that so I could disguise my pain of my own facial issues, I simply had closed them without looking, since she hadn’t said she wanted to share them.

So, now I’ll close and look at the pages as she re-opens them, and see what was said, and if it mentions me, and if so, makes me feel better or even worse.

9:32 p.m.

Last entry for tonight.  Teresa has requested we go to bed at 10:00.  Tomorrow, K may come back for a post-op visit.  Teresa will be getting her hair washed.  The day after, on Sunday, Dr. O removes the packing in her nose, and she can breath again.  Then, it is just the removal of the splint and we head for home on the 26th.

So, things are about to get moving quickly again, and I will be interested to see what feelings I may have as they do.

In talking with Teresa this evening, I explained a plan to her.  I’m going to see what I can do to get read.  I believe she can’t be anymore, no matter how she dresses or how she had her hair.  But I believe I will be, if I were to wear the same thing she does, and each of us were to put our hair back in pony tails exposing our foreheads.

So, I intend to try to get read.  I need to know.  I need to be certain if the problem is on my face or in my head.  If I can wear a sweatsuit, put my hair back in a pony tail or bun and go out on a Saturday morning to get a paper and some coffee and not get read by anyone, I may be eventually able to come around to the view that I am completely passable as a woman.

And that would indicate the problem was all in my mind.  But if it is, can I do anything about it?  Would I still have to eventually have surgery to get the kind of security I’m looking for?  Or is it not security, but transition I want to have.

Transition I was being able to find ways to go out in public and live my life without being read.  That I have done.

Transition II would be not having to engage in any ways to be seen as a woman.  To simply know that I would be no matter what I did or how I dressed.  Then, life would be about making the best of myself, not hiding the truth of myself.

Aye, there’s the rub again.  Even if I find I don’t get read under any conditions, will I ever feel I have BECOME a woman, unless I remove the physical things that remind me of my male past?

My fantasy dreams of becoming a woman were never about dressing up like one or living like one.  They were all about brain transplants, and experimental DNA treatments, and magical curses.

What I wanted was to be transformed, not just accepted in a different role.  I think many of us have lost track of the difference between transition and transformation.  Perhaps there are some, maybe the majority, or maybe none, who knows, who just want to transition to living the life of a woman and feel that they always have been women and don’t really need to change the body other than to replace one genital structure with another.

I thought that was me.  If I passed well enough, I’d be eternally happy.  But Teresa’s surgery has now made me realize, I don’t just want to pass, I want to change.  I want to be a different creature.  I want to stop living in the body I was born with and inhabit another.

If I could transfer my consciousness to a true female body, even leaving my brain behind, so everything down to my thoughts would form from female hard wiring, and I would be helpless to change it or escape from it, well then I would feel real and genuine and finally content.

But will anything short of that impossibility ever truly satisfy me?  I recall, in my early days in the community, many spoke of the possibility of amnesia as being desired.  They felt if they had no memory of their male past, and just showed up in some city, they had the potential to be happy, and just be the women they were.

I used to think that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard.  I had a wonderful wife, two great kids, may creative works I have achieved.  How could I leave that behind?  What would my life be without that?  Who would I be?

Female.

Now, I see.  It is not that you want to leave all those wonderful things behind a la “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” but that you would be will even to pay that great a price just for peace of the heart.

Sounds to me like a hope just this side of suicide.  And I have, in the past, heard the same amnesia wish expressed by Teresa.

But now, I see the hopeless necessity of it.  Even if I changed my face through surgery, would I ever really feel I was a woman?

I suppose it all depends on if I truly feel I am a woman inside my mind.  And right now, I can’t honestly say.  As long as I sometimes feel like a guy in drag, how can I at the same time feel like a woman in my head?

Does this come from my late transition at 38?  Teresa has told me she always felt of herself as a woman, and therefore, facial surgery removes the final vestige of her male past.  With the physical being the only male aspect for her, facial surgery frees her completely to be the woman she is on the inside.

But I had a wife, sired kids, lived the male life so long, I may have eternally polluted any feelings I might have had about actually being a woman inside.

I recall that before puberty, I wanted to dress up in women’s clothes, and I looked to the women in my life as my role models – not the men.

But after puberty, I came to feel I was just a guy with this erotic fantasy of being a woman.  So I didn’t date, became completely auto-erotic, and married as a virgin.  I tried so hard to be a man, and even put all thoughts of sex-change behind me for years at a time.

How could I do this if I am really a woman inside?

So, if I do get read, I have an excuse to perhaps eventually have surgery.  But if I don’t get read, will it make me feel any better at all?  And if I do get read and do have surgery, will I feel I am a woman, or just a guy in drag with an unreadable costume? What a thing to find out after all the expense and pain!

But, I don’t give up, never have, but can no longer say “never will.”  I can see giving up now as a real possibility.  But will I give up and be happy with what my life is, with a loving Teresa, a loving wife, two great kids, good friends, the ability to pass when I dress up right, respect in the gender community, a name for myself as a teacher of story structure?  Or will I simply become more and more depressed, even after potential FFS, because I know I’ll never actually feel I am a woman and there’s nothing left to try?  And where would that lead?  What damage or loss of all that I currently hold dear, including, perhaps, my own life?

Why can’t I just let it go, celebrate Teresa’s transformation, go out with here as two hot chicks for our ages, live a life many would envy, and be happy for the rest of my days?

I wish that if I can’t do that, if I can’t just live the “good life,” that at least someday I’ll know the reason why.

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