After Birth

Book One: Into the World

From Journeys and Transitions

by Melanie

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Chapter 105

Puppet Head

December 11, 2005

The stitches came out today!  I had slept only perhaps four hours spread out in fits and starts over the course of the night.  Way too anxious wondering what the results would be like when the stitches were relaxed, and equally eager to have it all behind me and to get on with life.  So, after shifting back and forth between the bed and the recliner in the living room, I finally woke Teresa with my restlessness at about a quarter to five.

Since we had the alarm set for 5 a.m., we decided to just get up and on with it.  Into the shower for a quick rinse, clothes on, cats fed, coffee drunk, final walk-though, into the car and on the road.

Teresa drove today – her second long stint behind the wheel since her surgery.  This time, however, she would have to make the run for three hours in each direction.  The sky was still dark as we pulled onto highway 50, but within moments the first gray light rose from the East.

Soon we were traveling through fog shrouded forests and fertile fields hugged by morning mist.  The sky lightened to a gentle azure while the most amazing wispy clouds brushed across the canopy.

I became transfixed with the grandeur of the dome, unable to shift my gaze.  There was such a natural, gentle power to it all: a slow, unhurried migration of time that conjured visions of blowing wheat fields and the music of the Prairie.

Then, in my mind, I heard my own voice saying, “I am a daughter of the heavens.”  And as the words echoed away, I realized that I truly felt like a daughter of the heavens.  I had watched the clouds many times in my life, especially as a child, and each experience was much the same: an appreciation of the breathtaking beauty, but in an impersonal, observational way.  I felt disconnected from the world then, not a part of the process.

But this morning, there was a tangible organic bond between me and my environment.  And rather than being a genderless observer, I was now a female participant.

Then it occurred to me that some sort of pretense had vanished in my personal universe.  I thought back to my previous 17 years since the beginning of transition, and a clarifying notion drifted toward me.  Suddenly it was completely clear why I had always felt like a pretender and why I now felt so real, natural, and complete.

Although I have documented these feelings in recent entries, and while I knew it was a result of my surgery, I had no idea as to the exact mechanism.  And while I enjoyed the passionate mystery of it all, it also rather terrified me that if that feeling should ever leave, I would have no idea how to make it return.

So this new understanding was an answer to my prayers, and I share it with you now….

Like most, when I first started transition, I didn’t have to learn how to be feminine.  Rather, I had to unlearn all the mannerisms I had developed to hide that quality.  But then, I had the problem of trying to look female as well.  And that was quite a different issue.

Acting feminine was my natural state, but looking female was far from it.  So, I did the usual, took hormones, lost weight, grew my hair, had electrolysis, pruned my eyebrows, started wearing makeup and one more thing: I learned how to pose my face.

Just like Jim Carey or Lon Chaney, you have to have a rubber face if you are born physically male-ish and want to appear female.  You start by mugging in front of the mirror.  You try on different looks – a raised eyebrow, a crooked smile – then move on to more subtle things such as tightening certain combinations of muscles to make one’s eyes appear wider, lips more plush, cheeks higher, and demeanor less severe.  This is all in addition to finding expressions that work for surprise, interest, innocence, and so on.

Eventually, you assemble a whole repertoire of facial manifestations to cover virtually any scenario you might encounter in everyday life.  Something happens that requires a reaction?  You run through the database and pull up the appropriate expression.  Trying to convey a particular attitude or mood, you select the best face for the effect.

Ultimately, you shuffle through facial presentations one after another, like the frames of an animated movie.  But rather than animating every frame, which would be far to complex, you simply hit the “key” frames and hold them until the next expression is required.

Back in the day, George Pal, the producer of such classics as the original War of the Worlds movie, and When Worlds Collide, began his career with a series of Puppetoons – short animated stories using carved wooden figures with replaceable heads.  Each head had a different emotion, and that head would remain as the figure was moved through the action until another emotion was needed.  Then, the head was simply replaced.

You see this in more recent productions such as the stylized South Park, or for budgetary reasons on cheap Saturday morning cartoons in which the artists only draw on “two’s” or “three’s” holding a single image for two or three frames and now drawing the in-betweens in order to save money.

In transition, you do the same – posing your face in a series of frozen tableaus, changing them only when a new effect is required.  It is highly effective – you end up looking female in spite of your natural facial features.  You can’t simply show your true emotions directly and unfiltered on your face, because not all of them play on your bones or through your soft tissue.

No matter what you do, certain emotions, left to their natural courses, would highlight some of your masculine features.  So, you cut out the in-betweens and just present the key frames.

Although quite functional, you end up feeling that you are never really yourself.  Every interaction is a stage play.  Every passion is parsed out in minimalist quanta just sufficient to suggest the actual heartfelt experience.

And so, in time, your own face becomes a mask, or more appropriately, a marionette to your inner puppeteer.  You come to rely on that performance.  Then, one day, you realize age has caught up to you and you can’t even pass any more without it.

You realize that you never moved freely through the world when you might have, and now that you have built up enough confidence over the years to give it a try, you are no longer able.

For me, I saw that I had never – never in all my 17 years of presenting myself as I felt inside – had I ever simply relaxed my face and let it express my feelings.

That changed the day of surgery.  I was so sure that the change to my lip would make all of my facial features read as female under any conditions, that without ever consciously considering it, the moment I was wheeled out of the operating room I let all pretense fall from me as surely as had my flesh.

When Teresa drove me home, the feeling of being real and natural was there.  And that feeling remained most of the time since.  But there were a couple of times I lost it for a moment.  And now I realize that I had lost confidence and fallen back on preening.  The moment that happened, the natural feeling vanished as it were nothing but smoke.  But as soon as I let go again to let my emotions play across my face unfiltered, the feeling returned as strongly as if it were part of my body.

I can tell when I am being up tight or letting loose.  Getting oneself to loosen up is like those relaxation exercises where they have you move through your body, one small section at a time, relaxing only that part until you finally work your way round robin and find that you have even eased those tightened muscles that you weren’t aware you had clenched.

That is a fine word to describe it – you feel as if you are relaxed, but come to sense that your face is clenched.  Letting the muscles relax until your face is expressionless and neutral is not as easy as it sounds.  All people learn to hold certain key facial positions in order to put their best face forward.  But it is the transgendered who perfect it to an art.  The process becomes so automatic that you lose conscious control over it, and no longer know how to tell which muscles are involved.

But if you take the time to fully relax your face so that you are tightening nothing, you’ll probably see a haggard, unattractive person in the mirror.  We recoil from that look and retreat to the safety of the old routines.  And this, we must, for our faces cannot hold up on their own, unrefined and unadorned.

This would be our unavoidable fate – to be unable to ever experience a direct connection between our inner feelings and our outer expression due to the certain knowledge we would absolutely be read as male.  It would be, if not for FFS.

Unless we are born with a face so female that we were never able to live as a male, then we need to embrace the most recent advance of the medical arts, and unlike generations of the transgendered through history, transcend the limitations of our physical selves and alter our fleshy identities so that the gender of our hearts is so externally guaranteed, that all pretense can be released.

That is the mechanism of the simple, natural, feeling that I am a daughter of the heavens.  Without my surgery, I could not have achieved it.  This is one state of mind that can not be internally generated.  But with surgery behind me, and with the mechanism of my organic connection wholly visible, I am the woman complete, and know the secret chant that will return me should untoward forces every wash me from the sky.

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