After Life

Book Two: Purgatory

From Journeys and Transitions

by Melanie

Chapter 83

The Naked Stage

November 13, 2005

Well, here it is – 5:30 in the morning again.  Seems I just can’t get a good night’s sleep these days.

The last couple of days have been mostly good, but yesterday I noticed a slow decline in mood.  I woke up in the morning, took a look in the mirror, and was actually rather pleased.

The battery of skin creams I’ve been using seemed to make my face so much smoother, so much more wrinkle free, that I started the day hopeful that my days of depression on these issues might be nearing an end, if not over altogether.  But as the Day wore on, I began to drift downward yet again.

For a few months now, Teresa had been back on injectable hormones, rather than the pills.  When we first met, she was on injectables, and I used to drive her, once a week, into Hollywood to get her shot.  But after a while, she switched to pills for the convenience.

I only dabbled with injections when I was first starting out, and the results were a screaming, raving, basket case who ended up in the backyard at 3 a.m. howling at the moon, shouting, crying, and waking up the entire neighborhood.

So, I went off injectables.

When I met Teresa, I was doing 2.5 mg a day plus Estrace.  But, with all the bad news about the long-term effects of HRT, I first gave up the Estrace, then gradually cut down the Premarin from 2.5 to 1.25 to a 1.25 every other day.  And earlier this year, figuring I was 52 and about where HRT might normally be stopped and certainly past the age of menopause, I gave them up altogether.

For a while, I felt GREAT!  I mean, my mood improved, my energy level was up.  I thought perhaps that the reason I had been so run down over the years was the estrogen.  I had a similar feeling when I had an infection some years ago and they put me on steroids for a week.  I had so much energy I actually RAN a half-mile trail near our mountain home, both down and UP hill, without stopping once for a breather or slowing down!

I then knew why men in sports take steroids.  They really work!  No matter the side effects.  After all, no one gets out of here alive anyway, right?

Nonetheless, I had knocked off completely for a few months, but then went back on the 1.25 mg pills every other day.  And recently, I decided it would be easier on my system to get the same amount of hormones by going to .625 every day.  But that turned out to be a mistake.

Seemed okay at first, but then there was this general sense that I wasn’t getting the effects I was looking for.  Just an overall toughening of the skin, loss of most of the subcutaneous fat layer, stuff like that.

Now Teresa, on the other hand, is looking like she’s 28 – no kidding!  And her entire thousand dollar new wardrobe has arrived by mail order – lot’s of young-ish clothes, low cut thingies, push-up bras, camisoles, cute little tailored jackets.  And on her, with her new female and softly feminine face and youthful appearance, they look wonderful – sexy, alluring…

If I were to wear the same thing, I’d look like somebody’s great-grandmother in a mini-skirt!  I really love the way she looks.  It’s quite a turn-on to me.  But is also casts the spotlight not only on the loss of my female face and the encroachment of masculine characteristics, but also on my thinning hair, my sunken cheeks, my droopy skin, the mud-flat cracks and wrinkles of my face.

So, I’m double-whammied now…  Next to her, I look like a guy, and I look like her mother.

I’m so damned beaten down by this bullshit that I have no defenses left.

So, yesterday I asked her some information about her injectables, and did some research on the web.  I also doubled my dose of Premarin back to 1.25 mg a day until I have all the facts.

Well, the good news is that the positive effects have begun to show up already.  As I’ve experience before, after an increased dose of hormones there is a regaining of short-term fat in some areas almost immediately.  And within 24 hours, the beginning of the subcutaneous fat layer is noticeable, just by pressing lightly on your skin.

Sometime later today, I should start to get the leg cramps.  That always happens to me when I either increase or decrease my hormone doses, and also (strangely enough) if I drink too much coffee for a while, or stop drinking it.  (I’ve often wondered if coffee fucks with estrogen receptors somehow….)

In any event, after about 10 days, there is a general redistribution of the fat in the face and the buttocks primarily.  You also lose fat around the middle.   The skin takes 21 days to renew itself by rising from the lowest layer out to the surface.  So, at that time you notice the beginning effects of increased collagen production as well, which softens wrinkles, plumps out the cheeks and lifts up the jowls.  I’ve noticed in the past that if I have an area of thinning hair and up my dose, the hair starts to thicken up again, but this takes several months.

These things I expect.  But how much , at 52, I do not know.  And I’m not getting any younger.  So the long-term stuff, did I throw away my ability to get back that youth by stopping hormones earlier?  Did it trigger some menopause kind of thing from which you can’t return?  Way too soon to ttell.  But the real question is, with all the downers I’ve had to deal with, how can I emotionally survive the months needed to find out?

I have so much pinned on this lip surgery.  But, as I told Teresa the other day, I recognize it is really grasping at straws.  After all, if I’m all shriveled up like a prune, well, what does a prune need with a new, pouty mouth?

I don’t just want to get unreadable at close-quarters again.  I want my youth back – the youth I couldn’t fully appreciate without that Cocoon House sea-change, but by the time I got in touch with the fullness of my being, I was already too told.  The youth that might have been if I’d just been born right.  The youth that Teresa has regained.

I used to get surprised looks when I told people my age.  They often said I looked at least a decade younger, sometimes two!  Teresa got that at work in the last year,.  Now, it is astounding to know her age because she has literally gone from 48 to 28 and has a whole new life to live.

Me, on the other hand have gone from surprise in the not too distant past to reactions meaning, “Ah, that’s about what I expected,” to “Oh, you poor dear!”

And yet, in bed, Teresa tells me I am beautiful, and that she is really attracted to me, and compliments me on how feminine I am.  But then, didn’t I do that with her in bed before her surgery?

Now, by comparison when looking at her old pictures, I can see her as she was.  And I can see why she had trouble believing my words of love.  But Teresa has no such comparison with me.  She just has the equivalent of a pre-surgical me.  And so, I am afraid I must take her proclamations with a grain of salt.  I no longer believe them, and that grain of salt simply falls into my open wound.

I know they are not platitudes.  She wouldn’t do that to me.  That would be pitiable.  She really means it.  But she is blinded by her love and cannot see me for how I have become.  She sees me with her heart, not her eyes.

But am I over-exaggerating the decrepitude of my condition?  Probably.  But I cannot see the truth anymore than she, and my view of myself is all that I have.

So, while Teresa wore a peasant skirt with a camisole and push-up bra today, I wore ratty blue jeans with a plain top.  And even then, I thought it looked too feminine for my face.

Last night, we went to bed and Teresa, sensing my emotional unease, yet wanting to be close, rolled over, got on her knees, and gently straddled me, sitting softly on my abdomen.

She looked so beautiful, so young, so feminine.  It is an image I imagined many times in my male youth – the soft, sensuous woman taking the initiative, climbing on top and letting her naked body push into mine.

I enjoyed every moment of it, as I reached up and caressed her breasts.  Yet, I could not help wishing I could feel that good about myself, that I could look that good, that I could do such a thing these days without, if a picture were taken, looking like some old, spent whore turning tricks for a quarter.

I did make love that way on a couple of occasions, right after SRS.  But my male partners were unresponsive.  Guys aren’t the sex machines Madison Avenue would have us believe!  Still, now I wonder if I looked ridiculous even then, and rather than hurt my feelings, they just tolerated my love-making, which was why they were unresponsive?

Yet, when Teresa does this, she is beautiful, and I do believe she truly and deeply loves me, and know that even if I have become a human clot, she will never see me that way, and I will be blessed with the overtures of this wonderful girl for all of my days.

But can I reciprocate without feeling like a clown in drag?  Not at this time.  There is only so much of my hatred of my physical self I can put aside.  I can fondle and caress her in bed, either unilaterally or in tandem, but to assume a wholly female role proactively under my own initiative?  I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do that again.

After three house of sleep we awoke at about 3 a.m.  (I had been awake for at least a half an hour before that because my boy cat, Smudge, had climbed up on my pillow while I was sleeping, and gradually pushed me off until I was sleeping with my head on the mattress with his butt in my face.)

Fortunately, Teresa awoke and decided to get up for some cocoa.  I joined her, but had tea instead, no sugar, to continue on this starvation diet.

While we sat in our respective chairs by the television, she asked me why I had named the first book of this journal, “Hell.”  I explained the following:

When I wrote that section, I had no idea it would turn into this likely trilogy.  Rather, I was just expecting a single book that would wrap up with how I felt after she had her surgery.

When I ended that book the day before they removed the final bandages, I simply knew that portion of the story was over.  It turned out that book one was all about my fears of how I would feel losing the old Teresa and gaining the new.  It evolved to become a personal journey, not simply of adjustment, but of battling the demons that Teresa’s transformation had unearthed.

Those fears of what was to come, the prelude to what was to be, could not help but end at the moment of that new reality.  For that is the moment a new journey began – the effort to deal with the actual changes and how they actually affected me.

But grappling with the angst, the heartache, the loss, was the worst emotional experience of my life.  Even the fears of losing my family during transition was not as consistently excruciating as the week before her FFS.

It was hell, for me, in the fullest sense of the word.  And may I never have such a period of utter hopelessness again in this life or the hereafter.

“So, why,” she asked, “are you calling the second book “Purgatory?”

I responded that the word Purgatory has taken on a new meaning for me.  Catholics refer to it as “limbo” a place betwixt and between. – sort of Superman’s “Phantom Zone.”  But I have come to see it as a time filled with both elation and pain.  A roller coaster ride that take you from the highest peaks of hopefulness to the lowest depths of despair.

Since it is a journey looking toward the future, toward how things will ultimately turn out, there can be no facts, no certainties.  Endless speculation is all there is.  On good days you are in the clouds; on bad days you are in the mud.  But overall, the ups and downs cancel each other out, so that the end result, the mean average of all that vacillation, is zero, neutral, limbo, purgatory.

Hence, the name for this second book.  Hell is perpetual Torment.  Purgatory is not emptiness, but is an endless shifting between happiness and sorrow, eagerness and anxiousness, belief and doubt, hope and resignation.  The ending score doesn’t matter whether it is 5 to 5, a thousand to a thousand, or zero to zero.  Both sides of the emotional pendulum cancel each other out with an end result that is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Heaven beckons, but Hell is always at your heels.

She asked me why all the allusions to fire in the chapter titles of Hell.  I shared that fire brings life, but is also destroys it.  Fire can temper you,.  Fire can purify.  Or fire can consume.

And as I think of it now, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to men, and was cursed by them to eternal torment.  I worked to bring fire from the Great God Dr. O. and gave it to Teresa, and have been cursed (by his assessment that I do not heed the same surgery) to a life, perhaps, of eternal torment as well.

At the risk of overplaying the analogy, in Purgatory, if one is eternally suffering, then if Heaven has closed its gates, it is better to slip back into Hell.  For fire consumes, and therefore ends the suffering, and that is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

It is now 6:51 a.m.  I am at an end of these words for now.  I suspect I will have to content myself with the three hours sleep I have gotten.  I know this does nothing to help me appear younger.

Perhaps, in the twenty three days remaining before my surgery, I will find myself improving.  There will be a change for my skin to renew with fresh collagen from the increased hormones.  The face creams I have been using for a week will reach their maximum effect expected at one month.  Perhaps I can get enough sleep so that my body rejuvenates.  And in the three weeks after surgery while the swelling goes down and my lip heals, I will likely reach my goal weight of 140 pounds – a loss of forty.

At that point, I will know if heaven has accepted me, or if it will only after more surgeries and more time in purgatory.   But if those gates are forever barred and refuse to raise my spirits, then my best hope for an end to pain is to slip back into hell and let it raze my soul.

9:17 a.m.

Another mood swing.  This time, and upbeat one.  I’m cooking sausage for Sunday breakfast right now, after having just browned up, nice and crispy, some of Teresa’s raw potato and peppers mix we had frozen last time she made it.  I just add the spices (distilled hickory smoke, garlic medley, onion powder, savory, fresh ground black pepper), and fry it up in olive oil until crunchy on the outside and fluffy-tender on the inside.

Some dishes require a multitude of subtle and complex spice combinations, but Sunday breakfast is an affair right off the farm, and needs to reflect that.

I never did make it back to bed after the last entry.  Rather, I made it back to bed, but just as Teresa was about to get up.  So, more properly, I never made it back to sleep.

That’s good for me sometimes.  Throughout my life I have used utter exhaustion as a means of resetting the psychological system.  It helps me get out of mental ruts and move on.  I get so exhausted I can no longer follow deep intellectual pursuits of self-exploration, and instead stand back as an observer of the more tangible flow of energies as life’s issues waft over me like a series of capricious light breezes.

Getting up with her after only having my head on the pillow for a minute or two was a truly fortuitous move.  Immediately I felt a growing energy, an empowerment, a desire to see who I really was, regardless of how I might look.

I was almost compelled to take off all the checks and balances and let myself go to see who I am.

First up, I started coffee for us.  I only allow myself one cup a week, on Sundays, while we watch the Sunday Morning show on CBS.  I never had watched it until I met Teresa, and now I work hard not to miss it.  Thanks to TiVo, I can wake up anytime on Sunday and start it when I want, even if it is still recording the tail end while I enjoy the beginning.

While coffee was perking, I took a brisk walk up the steep hill to our mailbox on the main road to get the Sunday paper and the mail I had been too depressed to retrieve yesterday.

In the box I discovered the copy of the Supertramp Anthology: Retrospectacle that I had ordered from Amazon.com.

I returned down the hill, exhilarated by the walk and breathing in deeply the pungent fragrance of the Cedar forest, drenched in morning dew from the moist atmosphere here in the Sierras in Fall.

Teresa had poured the coffee and blended our favorite quantities of cream and sugar, and we sat down and began the Sunday show.

Although Teresa is not fond of him, the work and story of one of my favorite artists was featured: Andy Warhol.  What I like about him is not any great artistry, but his driving desire to see old things in new lights, and his unbridled enthusiasm to express himself regardless of the assessments of critics and/or people on the street.  He followed his own Muse wherever it led without a whit of concern for how that might be received.  For me, a role model.

The desire to emulate that approach to life, I suppose, is one reason I have now made my TG writings available as part of my general web page to all comers.

In any event, my rising energy levels were redoubled by this immersion, almost a baptism by fire, just when I needed one.

Self-conversion from the religion of despair to the new calling of self-godhood in a religion I make up as I go is a calling card of my artist’s journey.  And here it was again.  As I mentioned to Teresa during a break in the show, “I know you are often confused by the almost magical changes of mind I undergo, making balloon animals out of my psyche. 

She does often stand slack jawed at the speed with which after a prolonged depression I snap myself out of it in an almost bipolar manner.  From the inside, it is more like doing research on an inner problem, gathering data by feeling the full-on force of each angst, and then, when a critical mass is achieved, realizing I can learn no more.  At that point, like a single neuron firing, the “action potential” is achieved and the whole mental house of cards cascades and reforms itself in the twitching of a jaundiced eye.

Depressions tend to reel me in slowly, but elations snap the line as I jump out of the water to fly for a time before falling back into the sea, into a net, or sometimes into the boat.

After the uplifting program, I put on the first CD of the double Supertramp album.  It is playing now.  I’ve been dancing to it.  Usually I picture myself as gawky when dancing.  But today I feel that dance isn’t about being graceful – it is about feeling the music and letting it move you.  No matter how you may look, if you are groovin’ to the music, if you are in tune with it, than the fullest expression of your being is far more legitimate than a supremely graceful dancer who feels nothing but the mechanics of the motions.

Self-expression – without fear – isn’t that what it is really all about?  Whether you transitioned because you wanted to be able to act a certain way in public without ridicule, or because you needed a crutch to give yourself permission, or whether you had a body map that said the arrangement of the landmarks on your organic landscape was all wrong – no matter why – you are still seeking self expression without fear.

That can be achieved two ways – either that your behaviors fall into what people will accept for a creature that looks as you do in color, gender, age, or shape, or that you truly are happy with how you are and truly unaffected by any negative response because you really don’t fit the expected behavior for your corporal presentation.  Of course, they can meet in the middle with a little of each.

I’ve always been afraid to pursue art, such as drawing or painting, because I know I am not naturally gifted as many and must really work at creating something that would be appreciated as having come from someone truly talented.

But last night, I assembled another set of shelves and put up the first of our books which have been in storage boxes since we moved to the home we bought in Pine Mountain Club four years ago.

And there were so many old treasures I had forgotten – books on the Civil War, on fragrance blending, on “Molecules of Emotion,” and one long lost coffee table book – “An Encyclopedia of Art Techniques.”  And next to it, my old sketchbook with only half a dozen drawings in it, started over 10 years ago and never pursued.

Even in my growing darkness of heart last night, this find provided a bright spot, and I placed both books by my chair in the living room to explore when I felt more enthusiastic about life.

Then, to see the special on Warhol, what timing!  It opened in me a rush to expand my expressions for words and get back into drawing, venture into painting, and throw myself into my music with abandon.

My gender and age concerns may not have resolved themselves, but I had discovered something that, as impossible as it seems, transcended them!

I’ve always hidden away my TG past when exposing my art to the world.  Now, I have incorporated that aspect of my life.  And I begin to see a freedom of expression that is taking hold within me.  It is so strong that it becomes my central focus, supplanting the melancholy woes of Transgender Mid-Life Crisis I have been experiencing.

That’s what it all is, really.  I am simply trying to come to terms with no longer being young and pretty, and trying to find some value in my life and a reason to go on, and (in my wildest dreams) a reason to actually enjoy getting up every day.

And I think I’ve found that in my art.  If I still looked like I once did, would I ever have come to this, or would I remain, as I was then, so worried that something would blow my cover, that something unexpected would ruin the illusion and let people see who I really was, that I lived in fear even when I had the least about which I should have worried?

The last word on the Supertramp song that just played was “Sunday.”  How apropos!

I am so timid I hesitate to put one of my movies on the television if Teresa is in the room.  Not her fault – she has never complained, has tried to encourage me to do so for all the years we have been together, and even herself puts on programs she suspects I’ll like because she knows I am too insecure to ever to it myself.

But I have been so afraid of being rejected by all, left alone with no one who will share time with me….  That seems like a consistent theme in the subtext of this entire tome.  Lajos Egri, author of “The Art of Dramatic Writing!” said that every great work from Shakespeare to Seinfeld can be boiled down to a single premise, such as “Greed leads to Self-Destruction.”

Of course, that is too general to start with in developing a story, but a story, once developed, if it strikes a chord with the audience will be discovered to have such a premise as it’s spine.

Fear of being alone leads to… what?  I’m not sure yet.  But premises can also be positive, such as, “Overcoming the Fear of Being Alone leads to True Happiness.”  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to discover that is the thread that binds the volumes of this work?

Fear of being alone is always driven by low self-esteem.  But not solely.  It also requires a desire to commune with others.  On the one hand, you crave intimate interchange with fellow souls.  And the other hand, you see yourself as having little or no value, or perhaps even being a cost to others because see yourself as different or embarrassing to be with.

And this is one path that leads to the establishment of a phony persona into which you must buy stock, though you know the company is worthless, so that you can sell it to others:  “I’m not just the company president, I own stock in it too.”  It legitimizes the whole scam.  And when you can actually snare another soul into believing your spiel, you have to keep up the act lest they become enraptured of some other huckster and leave your flim flam medicine show for a higher-kicking chorus line and a free bar of soap.

What if they gave a war and nobody came?  What if you gave yourself and nobody cared?  The only attention you want is toward the character you portray on stage.  You are so sure no one would stick around to see The Person that you don’t even bother, not even as a warm-up act.  You cut The Person, and shove The Personality out in front of the footlights.  They are a reliable performer.  They sing up a storm and dance a slippery jig until the cows come home to roost.

Now you tell me.  Do you feel better inside if everyone loves you on stage, but there isn’t anyone who sees you without the greasepaint?  Or might it be better to play yourself sans costume on a setless stage to an empty house?

After years of presenting the former, I am compelled, now, to have a go at the later.

I want to “let it all hang out,” in the vernacular of my ancient generation – not to see if anyone will show up, but to see what it feels like to not hold back.

Although the audience is not incidental, it is irrelevant.  To the true artist, the work legitimizes itself.  It does not need acclaim, approval, or even notice.  You create yourself as you wish to be, and that is sufficient.

If others love you for it, if you become the darling of the “in” crowd, perhaps that would enhance the experience, but might also pollute it and taint the purity of the work to follow.

I suppose it depends on how you respond to praise of your true self, should such a thing occur.

When I went out dressed in ratty jeans with my hair back and no make-up the other day, I now see it was not so much to determine if I was unreadable under conditions, but simply to see if I had the guts to go out on stage naked.

Turns out, I did.  Not that it didn’t have negative emotional ramifications, but it was a first immersion, like stepping into a cold pool.  You can recoil and run for the showers, or you can go deeper and deeper until you adjust.  The Polar Bear club cuts a hole in the ice every January and drives into the water with nothing but a regular swimsuit.

The soul can swim in even the iciest water, but not forever.  If the reception is truly that chilly, as it was for the Elephant Man, then one must either accept the judgment of others as to your worth, or hermit yourself away where you can be satisfied without contradiction with your own appraisal.

But how will you know?  How will you discover how others will respond if you don’t put your true self out there?  Again, can you go through your entire life without ever knowing yourself because you are afraid of the icy waters?  Or do you dive in and see if it is warmer than you thought?  As a gregarious individual, do you risk self-exile to a solitary land for the chance to explore all that you are with the potential for at least some degree of acceptance?

You pays you money and you takes you chances.  Or you don’t pay up, and you forever wonder.

I think there’s not that much time left in my life to fret over solitude.  I think I’ll go for broke, putting my TG stuff on my public web page, walking proudly through the streets in whatever garb I find pleasant to my own council, and dancing to whatever music gooses my fancy.

Sure, I expect I’ll backslide if the dip is chilly.  But I’ll be back.  I’ll keep trying until I’m swimming or, to quote again The World According to Garp, “Look – I’m flying!”

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