by Melanie Anne
Part One: Hell
October 22, 2005
What a wonderful day!
This is the first day since we’ve been here, that I can truly say that.
Teresa and I talked last night when we got up for meds, a little food, and something to drink. I think we could each feel some key things coming to the surface, and in casual conversation, we moved toward them. I told her about my initial thoughts about just trying to be passable vs. trying to become a different person. I explained the purpose of this journal – not to create a sanitized description of that was going on, but to lay down a record of my emotional state, moment by moment, at the same level of passion that I was experiencing it.
I explained that I am a passionate person (as if she didn’t know that). And that I may change my mind at the drop of hat if I come to a new perspective or understanding, but whatever understanding I have at the moment is held and expressed as passionately as if it were an immutable Truth, a constant not subject to revision.
Through this, I was able to let her put my various emotional outbursts and tirades since we have been here into context, to see them as necessary steps of self honesty and faithfulness to my transient feelings that, if not accurately and fully expressed, would not allow mental passage from the current state of mind to the next along my path to inner salvation.
And in finally tuning in to the reason I have taken the bridle off my feelings, she could take them as passing fancies, explosions and explorations necessary to advance, and not to be considered my overall attitude toward anything, no matter how intensely they have been expressed.
By the end of our 3 a.m. snack, we both felt cleansed of doubt and anxiety. We reaffirmed our love for each other, and our mutual desire to stay together for the rest of our lives. And just before we drifted back to sleep, Teresa softly said, “Now, I am at peace.”
This morning, I awoke feeling I was on the verge of some new understanding. The clutter that had been my mind for some time began to organize. The mental fog started to lift, and a clear view of the terrain of not only my inner landscape but the true shape of things in my work started to materialize.
I went into bathroom and stood before the mirror. And then is evolved before me – the true meaning of the difference between Transition and Transformation.
Transition is all about passing as a woman. Transformation is all about eradicating the masculine qualities of your former self. Sometimes they work hand in hand, but they are not at all the same thing.
If you are TG, pre, post, or anywhere else along the gender trail (Yippee-Yi-Kai-Oh), take a good look at your face. You probably have an overall impression of it. There are things you like, and things you don’t like. There are attributes you think get you read, and ones that you see as passing as or even being feminine.
But have you ever stopped to consider that there are two types of attributes in your face: The ones that get you read and the ones that remind you of your old male self?
As I stood before the mirror this morning, it occurred to me that I had been looking at my face as a whole – the sum of the parts. As Dr. Ousterhout says in his pamphlet, being seen as having a male or female face by others is an impression of the total face, all attributes taken together. What he seeks to do is not over exaggerate the changes in any one area, but take each attribute individually, and move it just slightly, from falling within the normal male range, to falling within the normal female range.
It turns out that there is some overlap between physical facial qualities that are male, and female. So, some characteristics that may read as male may also read as female, depending on the context.
And what is the context? For one thing, it is the sum total of all the attributes taken together. For example, a woman with a masculine forehead would still look like a woman, if all her other attributes were clearly within the female range, and out of the male range.
The woman who plays Starbuck in the Battlestar Galactica series on Sci-Fi channel is a case in point. She has one of the most prominent foreheads and brow ridges I’ve seen on a woman. And yet, she is clearly a woman because all her other major attributes are well into the female range.
To see this, find a picture of her in some magazine. Cover up her forehead and see the feminine features from the eyes down. Then, cover up the lower face, and see the masculine features from the eyes up. If all you saw was the lower face, you’d rate the person in the picture as a woman. If all you saw was forehead, you’d assess them as a man. But taken altogether, her face is “obviously” that of a woman.
What are all the features that contribute to the overall? Dr. Ousterhout has determined many of them. The extension of the forehead outward from the face, creating hood over the eyes, or being more recessed so the eyes are more forward appearing. The shape of the jaw where it flares on the side – it is wide or narrow? Does the jaw taper into a hear shape, or is it square? The chin – is it wide and square, or tapering? Is it a long chin, or a short one? Are the cheek bones high up under the eye, or are they lower or flatter? And so on.
These and other attributes all contribute in varying degrees to the overall determination that a face is male or female. And almost all of use have some degree of mixture of male and female qualities.
Take, for example, Sigourney Weaver and Sandra Bullock. Examine their faces closely. How many clearly male characteristics can you find in each face, though each overall face is clearly female.
Now, look at your own face. Look at your forehead extension, brow ridge, nose width, shape, and size. Consider your cheekbones, your jaw flare, your jaw angle, chin size and shape.
Which are naturally well within the male range, and which well within the female? And which could fall in either?
Dr. O. uses a “by the numbers” approach, where he has taken key measurements of relative proportions on what are considered very female faces. He then applies those ratios to the face of the FFS candidate to determine how much of what needs to be removed, added, or shifted to bring it as close to that female ideal as possible.
Some things can’t be changed because there is not enough to work with. Others can’t be changed because there is too much to remove. But his purpose is not to force every aspect of a face into the center of the female column. Rather, he moves what he can, as far as he can, and therefore creates a face more likely to be seen as female than male, on the whole.
And, gawd dammit, it works! Teresa had the most wonderful eyes! They just dripped with femininity. And though she had an extended forehead and a moderate brow ridge, her eyes alone compensated for them in the overall.
But her jaw was fricking huge. A large, square prominence that ANYBODY would see as a highly masculine feature. So, it required her to force her femininity to the max inside herself to not get read. Just to many clearly male features to overcome. In short, she could not relax and be herself, because if she let her guard down, the femininity might ratchet down a notch, and though quite feminine for anyone, wouldn’t be enough to compensate, and she would get read.
What a hideous way to live!
Now just this morning (jumping briefly ahead to a later part of our story), Teresa showed me an earlier picture of her, taken right after she went through transition, three decades ago. She had exactly the same masculine features, but read clearly as a woman. Why? Because she weighed about 25 pounds less, and her facial muscles and skin hadn’t sagged as will happen to everyone around middle age.
So, with a tighter face, and less weight, could she have passed again, just as she did when she was young? Almost certainly! The other contexts of her being, the say she moves, her voices, the way she uses her eyes and facial muscles, the female expressions she wears, her wonderful hair – all of these would have pulled together to make her unreadable again.
All she would have had to do was lose weight and get a facelift. The would have cost less than 1/3 of what she has paid Ousterhoust, would have been FAR less invasive, less painful, with less recovery time, and just as successful in keeping her from being read.
So, then, why did she STILL opt to go the full FFS route? Though she didn’t know it at the time, this morning (as I explained all this to her after my shower), the answer to her almost fanatical motivation to get this surgery became clear.
It came down to the difference between Transition and Transformation. No matter how well she passed, she would always still see Michael, her former self, staring back at her in the mirror.
Again, Transition is becoming passable. Transformation is becoming a different person – losing anything that reminds you of your male self.
So even though she could have passed just fine with weight loss and a face lift, she couldn’t get rid of Michael unless she went through FFS.
At the instant she realized this as we talked this morning, her eyes opened wide with sudden understanding of herself and her motivations. It was almost a validation for why she needed FFS even though everyone she knew kept telling her she didn’t need it.
Now, there is of course a sliding scale on facial features. Since male and female qualities do have a range of overlap, they may fall closer to one side or the other, or right smack in the middle. And, not all features are equally powerful in creating the overall image of the face as a whole. In addition, the way one dresses, the use of makeup, hairstyle, movement – all put the face itself in context.
But the problem is, the more things are out of range, the more context you need. This, then, requires that you put more effort into being yourself. You can just BE yourself. And if it bothers you to HAVE to put on certain clothes or ALWAYS wear makeup, then you won’t be content with transition (or completed with it) until it doesn’t require any care at all to pass.
That, of course, is the holy grail of the FFS quest – to look genetically female under all conditions, so if you wore the most masculine clothes with no makeup and hadn’t slept in three days you’d still be read as female.
Still, if it doesn’t bother you to “dress up” to look female, then maybe you don’t need FFS at all, if you can pull it off, or perhaps just go for the less invasive approach with weight loss, liposuction, perhaps a facelift.
Nonetheless, although some of the Transition changes you make can obscure or alter attributes that remind you of your former male self, there may be a number of additional characteristics that still make you feel that your old self is staring at you from the mirror.
For example, a facelift may improve the shape of your jaw to the point it is passable, but it still looks like the jaw you have always known. So while others will read you as female with that jaw, YOU will read yourself as your earlier male counterpart still.
So, look at your own face in the mirror. Using what has been discussed here, make two lists. The first list is just those attributes that remind you of your former self. Maybe it is your nose, or your jaw, or your forehead, or any attribute.
Next, make a second list of those attributes that are truly masculine looking. Some of the items in this list may be the same as the ones in your “Old Self” list. But some may be completely different. Try to keep from including in your “Masculine Features” list anything is really isn’t masculine, but just reminds you of your male self. You want to keep the lists as pure as possible.
Then, take each list, independently, and put it in an order of priority. In other words, take the “Old Self” list and put at the top the one feature that absolutely most reminds you of the old you, whether or not it is masculine or feminine. Then, the second most reminiscent feature, until you have them all in decreasing order
Now, do the same for your “Masculine Feature” list. Get it in order, with the most masculine features – the ones that have the greatest impact on making you get read as a man, right at the top.
Your newly ordered Masculine Feature list will tell you what procedures you are most likely to want to do to stop being read under any and all conditions. But keep in mind that sometimes you can leave the most masculine feature if it requires a major investment in money, risk, and/or pain, if you instead attend to two or three other items farther down the list that collectively have more impact on your face that the single largest one at the top of your list.
As mentioned earlier with Sigourney Weaver, Sandra Bullock, and the woman who plays Starbuck, you can have one or two REALLY masculine features, but if the sum total of the rest of them reads female, you’re home free.
This gives you some latitude. You can pick the least costly and painful collection of items, rather than having to throw yourself into whatever it is at the top of the list.
Similarly, on your “Old Self” list, don’t feel you have to mess with the top item or two in order to not see the man in the mirror. Rather, pick a collection of times that collectively will alter your appearance from your old self enough to give you a sense of transformation.
For example, you might find that something as simple as coloring your hair, or going curly or straight with it, might have a huge impact on how that old face looks. And there are many other simply things you can do, from chemical peels, removing wrinkles with collagen injections, doing a partial or complete face lift, or a simply nose job, that will really eradicate enough of the old you that you don’t see him anymore when you see you.
Now, what did this insight do for me, as I stood in front of the mirror this morning? This will serve to illustrate how the process can work.
First, I pulled all my hair back and took a good look at my face. When I had the Eureka Moment about the difference between Transition and Transformation – between appearing female and appearing as a different person – suddenly it was if my face, as they say, was an open book.
I could suddenly see the features that were masculine and feminine, and see them independently of the familiar features the made me think I was still looking at the old me.
It became ludicrously easy to see what I needed and could easily do to be completely unreadable under any conditions. And I could easily see how that wouldn’t resolve my feelings of still being Dave. OTHER attributes were the ones that made me see the man in the mirror, but honestly, those qualities associated with my “Old Self” (if fixed or altered) wouldn’t have that much of an impact on my readability.
So, here are the specifics, just for the record….
I have a very masculine forehead. I hide it with bangs. I wear all kinds of hair spray to make sure the bangs stay put. I turn my back to the wind whenever it blows so my forehead doesn’t show. I don’t go swimming lest my forehead show. I refuse to pull my hair back in a ponytail or bun lest my forehead show.
But – this is the exact same forehead my mother had, and also the same one my grandmother had. It is genetic in the women in my family. They all have masculine foreheads!
But, this feature is at the top of my “Old Self” list. I see that attribute and it makes my eyes seem like they are Dave eyes, staring at me right out of the past. Yet if I put my hair in bangs, or even part it in the center and let it flow over the sides of my forehead, I don’t see the man in the mirror and my eyes seem like the eyes of a woman.
Now, did this forehead ever get me read? Probably not. But does it make me see myself as old Dave more than any other attribute? Yes it abso-fucking-lutely does!
So, do I go through the pain/expense/risk of forehead surgery with Dr. O? Although I can’t rule it out someday, with my new understanding of Transition vs. Transformation, I would be stupid to do it without first altering a collection of other, easily remedied traits.
For example, I could color my hair. I’ve often thought of going blond, or even redhead! I could lose more weight – which I’m absolutely going to do- and which may solve a lot or even all of my jowl problems. And if that doesn’t work, I’ll do a lower jaw facelift or some minor local lipo and get the job done.
And then we’ll see if Dave is still in the mirror.
Plus, I should probably do whatever I need to for the “Masculine Features” list first, since those items are essential for more convenient passability, and then see if they have had any impact on Ol’ Dave.
In that realm, then, I made a truly amazing discovery. Once I could see that my forehead, jaw, and nose really didn’t get me read, that they were more Dave issues than passability issues, what was it that really WAS causing me to feel readable?
The answer was in an area I had never considered – my upper lip.
Before my nose surgery, I had a smallish upper lip that curled up nicely, all on its own. Because the nose job was somewhat hacked, I ended up with one side of my upper lip drooping down, if at rest, which took away the curl in my lip, made the lip vertically longer, and made my lips themselves look smaller.
I never thought to look at that until I had the clarity of separating out the masculine features from those that reminded me of Dave. But once I saw the problem with the lip, I did a simple experiment. I simply put a little pressure under my nose to pull up that lip just a little bit – to curl it up and make the lip look shorter and the lips look fuller.
When I did, it was almost as if my whole face had feminized. And then it became clear what some of the problems had been for me after my nose surgery: the nose was more feminine, but the face had become far more masculine because of the lip.
Looking back now, I realize I have been compensating for that for 10 years! I discovered that if I forced a smile, then I looked more passable. I had thought was because it lifted my whole face, the jowls and such. To some extent, that’s true, but the real benefit was just on that upper lip. The smile pulled it back up, and though not as effective as having the lip fixed, it still did and does the trick.
But you can’t smile all the time. And when you get tired and your face relaxes and your mouth goes into a thin line, well if your lips are like mine, it makes your jaw look square, it makes you face look wide, it makes your upper lip look enormous, and takes all the attention away from any feminine attributes, leaving you looking excessively masculine.
Now, I have to tell you, my mom looked exactly like that whenever she got tired. So did my grandmother. It’s flippin’ genetic among the women in my family. But I’m taller, I have other male attributes left, and I can’t afford this crucial one to do to me what it did to them.
So, out of all the things I might do to feminize my appearance, I have chosen to have my a “lip roll up” as they say, which will give me a more feminine mouth, lessen the vertical height of the upper lip, bring back the curl, make my lips look larger.
Only after that, will I re-examine the whole face to see what the new lay of the land appears to be. I’ll re-do my “Masculine Attributes” list and my “Old Self” list from scratch, and see if any of my priorities have changed.
Add to that my continued dieting and loss of 10 or 20 more pounds, and for all I know, that will solve all my issues. But if not, now that I understand the real issues, I’m going to take it step by step, one small change at a time. And if eventually I have to go the whole route of FFS, so be it then, but if not, so much the better.
One final note… As I mentioned above, I was worried that Teresa would no longer be my “type” facially, after surgery. I lamented that I would lose the old Steve smile of my childhood friend, and loose the look of my mother’s eyes. I feared that next to her I would feel like a guy in drag.
I can now tell you that the opposite of all these has occurred. The Steve smile and my mom’s eyes were like visual comfort food. They were attributes that soothed an insecure heart, and made me feel less afraid of my own lack of confidence in the way I personally looked.
And my confidence was generated by comparing myself to others – to men, who made me feel like a woman, and to women like Teresa who weren’t as pretty as myself.
But once I learned that I had it within my own power to be as much woman as I cared to be – once I put my fortune cookie wisdom into play (“You stand in your own light – let it shine!”) I found I no longer needed to play off others to find myself.
Teresa discovered that she could define herself by FFS. I found I could make my own changes that would make me unreadable under all conditions. And beyond that, I could lose those parts of my old self-image that I no longer wanted.
So, since I didn’t have the fear of losing confidence in the way I looked compared to Teresa, and could generate that confidence on my own, then I realized I no longer needed the comforts of Steve’s smile or my mom’s eyes. And those qualities that I always through were aspects of my “type” of woman that I wanted in my life, turned out to be pseudo attractions – simply manifestations of others that wrapped me in a protective cloak of security.
No longer needing the security, those attributes were no longer essential to image of the perfect “type” of woman for me to love. And instead, I have discovered that the type I love the most, the type I am most attracted to sexually, is made up of exactly the facial qualities that Teresa now has.
You might ask me if that is the type that I always wanted behind the mask of the comfort zone qualities I have now abandoned. Or if I only latched onto those new qualities because they are associated now with the woman I love. And I would have no answer for you.
But you see, it doesn’t really matter. I know myself now. I am my own justification. And when I look outward, I see the woman I love, and her face is the new face of my Teresa, smiling at me gently, as we stare into each other’s eyes and eagerly await a whole new future together.
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