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"Based On A True Story"

excerpts from the transition diary of Katherine Collins

Introductory note * November 15, 1993

Somehow Melanie and I cooked up the idea that I would make submissions to The Subversive, which addressed -the spiritual side of transsexualism+. Ever since we agreed to that, I have been wondering what form to give it. It is not that I have nothing to say on that subject, but rather, far too much.

Several times a week, I write a few thousand words in my -transition diary+, detailing thoughts or feelings or events. I have been doing it regularly for almost two years now. This writing is amazing to look back on. Every phase is so distinct, every step forward so tentative and yet momentous, and then so quickly left behind and forgotten as new developments overwhelm the old. Inevitably, I hope to have the resultant bulky tome published at some point - heavily edited, one hopes, perhaps with garden shears.

The -spiritual side+ of the transition is proving to be the most important part of it, but also the most elusive. I am not forming precepts or coming to definite conclusions. My spiritual growth is a blind grope down a path I have never imagined; and so what I want to do is share with the readers of The Subversive some of the stages of that journey as I have experienced them. In this and future issues, I propose to publish some edited excerpts from my diary - not the whole diary, as Melanie is doing, but in my case only those bits which bear upon spiritual matters. So you will be spared a lot of my personal agonies over my appearance and my relationships and my work and finances, although all of that, too, is of course part of the larger story of any transsexual+s life.

I started seriously working toward my transition in April 1992, first by just -dressing+ part time in public, and, luckily, finding a partner (now an +ex+) who was able to help me explore my female sexual side. I spent over a year working on my appearance, in order to make -full time+ possible, and now, since July 1993, am -living full time+, taking hormones, and day by day altering my social persona in the eyes of all who know me.

These first two excerpts are from September and November of 1992, when I had just recently started therapy and electrolysis, and the whole process was still all new.

Excerpt One: -Splinters of the Infinite+ * Sept. 1, 1992

It never ends now. This transition is on my mind nearly all the time. It takes a lot of my energy, just thinking about it; and more energy, doing anything about it.

Day by day I see the new self emerging - sometimes summoned forth through applications of makeup and through careful dressing - and sometimes simply there, by surprise, staring me in the face from the mirror.

I am getting used to it, but it is also an astonishing situation. Sometimes it feels as if I have fallen into a dream, as if everything I am saying is the fantastic prattle of dreams, and that I shall awaken and shake myself and say, how incredible.

I look at myself in the mirror and realize how deeply into this dream I have fallen. It is infinite, like the reflected galleries of a hall of mirrors - the reality of my profound changes reverberates through my personal time and space, altering my relationship with the world, and with the cosmos. The dream is deep and multi-layered, and new meanings flash as one rounds every corner. And the infinite speaks back, and like the mirror, affirms what I know is there. It says, -Yes, I know.+ And it says, -Yes+.

I had two visions - splinters of the infinite, sent my way, and through me. They are among the more palpable of the affirmations I have been receiving.

Both came to me in the same evening, several hours apart. Both came while I was being held by Carol.

The first: suddenly I was present in another time and place, in another body, in another life, in almost another world. It was the early days of civilisation, in Mesopotamia or Sumeria. We were thin brown people, Carol and I, poor, in a hot dry land. This harshness was to us simply the human condition, and our comfort was that my scrawny female body was being held by my husband, who was also small and thin and who loved me and wanted to make love with me.

And peculiar words came to me - -At last my bones are wanted upon this earth.+

I don+t think I have ever felt before that my body, and my self, as one, were welcomed and desired. I have been ill at ease on earth, like an unwanted guest. Inhabiting that brown body, so nearly nothing but bones, and its bones so nearly just another bit of brittle debris in a dry landscape, paradoxically made me feel more desired, and more at home in the world as a woman, than if I had suddenly been transformed into a buoyant pin-up queen. I was desired from the bones outward. My husband+s arms around the frail package which held my soul gave me a sense of completeness, which echoed through to today, from the life of that person I perhaps once was, to the life of the person I am becoming.

Later - much later - lost in the wilds and visions of sexual energy, I felt strength and power running through me. My articulate imagination labelled it for me, with symbols I already knew. I knew them, but had never felt them within me before.

It was the female energy which in Puritan times was labelled as witchcraft. It is that energy which women today are reclaiming, and dedicating to the Goddess, and channeling through themselves once again. The symbols were of the supernatural: of spirits and fairies and magic, of demons, and of the dead and the living. They came from somewhere on or near the earth, and arched their way, through me, toward the sky. The dead yawned toward the heavens, and the living were rooted in the earth, and all the spirits between were in a twisting cycle, with energy far beyond my control.

I have no rational understanding of what I felt, of what came through me. It was a gift, for a moment, which I hope I will receive again.

I think there is no turning back in this process; it+s far too late for that and I am far too certain of my direction. So whether it is all a dream, or stark reality, I am living it now.

Excerpt Two: -Ghosts In The Hall+ * November 20, 1992

I feel a marked dissonance with my own body. Saying that, I realise it is almost the textbook definition of what being trans-gendered is all about. Still, it is currently disturbing me more than it has in quite a while. I catch sight of myself in the mirror - in either women+s or men+s clothes - and I am shaken. The appearance is so far from what I feel I am, that it is discouraging and depressing.

Despite the success of my hair additions, which give me a full, bushy head of long hair, when I look at my face in the mirror I see behind that to the greying, balding, middle-aged man which is my natural appearance. This dissonance is repeated when I survey my entire body, and see the portly stomach of the middle-aged man.

Then the dissonance rises to a din, when I hear the voices of those girls and women I might have been, but have never been, and will never be.

They are like ghosts running through the halls of my apartment. They surround me and follow me. Sometimes they follow faithfully like a shadow but of a different shape, and sometimes they run off in some other direction. At times I can follow - but other times I definitely cannot.

I have written before, at least briefly, about the feeling of having missed out on the childhood, the girlhood, that I wish I had had - and the adolescence, and the young womanhood. Instead I had some other life - not quite somebody else+s, exactly, as I certainly lived it and made it mine. And it made me its own, to some extent. But it was not the life that I should have had, and it detracted from connection with a great many parts of myself.

It is, to say the least, challenging to develop as a middle-aged woman without having been a girl and a young woman. One of the missed connections was with my own sexuality. And now, only recently, one major way that I have been thrown face-to-face with my -lost selves+, with the girls and women I -should have been+, has been through sexuality. Its sly budding, that I missed having as a girl and a woman, I seem now to be having. And through it, I can experience and express the many unfulfilled young personae that I find in myself. I can live them out to some extent.

Even the fears help. Like any young girl, I feel a tremulous fear of the power of sex; but also a reluctance to turn away from it. I feel small and powerless before it, and yet it is coming from me, or through me. It is especially bewildering that my sexuality has the ability to affect others. My fears, my hesitation, my clumsy lack of experience, my confusion and embarrassment, are all conspiring to locate me, psychologically, in the mind of a young girl.

No part of this -transformation+ process has been anything I have expected in advance, or could have predicted. I certainly did not imagine this - the inhabiting of myself by a young girl+s undeveloped self. This can be wonderful, and I'm sure it is -healthy+, but it is also adding to the uncomfortable dissonance between my inner self-image and my outer appearance. It is not my aim, as a middle-aged transsexual, to generally try to live in the world as a teenage girl. This would add infinitely greater absurdity to a social persona which is already going to be hard enough to integrate into the larger society.

The everyday self wants to continue as an adult being, able to handle the rigours of career and social relationships, and of intellectual perception. But the inner self is hungering for experiences - social, not just sexual - which I have not had. I want to get the affirmations I never had as a young person: to be seen and perceived and related to as a tender, budding young woman; to have my sweetness and romanticism, and desire to be pretty and have innocent fun, be perceived as part of a young female personality.

Every experience of maturation that I have had, I had as a -young man+. To actually have those experiences again, this time as a young woman, is of course impossible. But as a replacement, now a powerful magnet exists in anything that is able to tell me, intellectually or intuitively, what it has been like for others and therefore what it might have been like for me.

In part, I am absorbing other people+s memories, in order to have a past. I sometimes feel like the character of Rachel, in the movie -Blade Runner+. She was a manufactured being, a pseudo-human, who was given someone else+s memories so that she would believe she is -real+. For years I have been reading fiction and memoirs by women, at first quite unconsciously choosing it, and have been gaining at least a bit of fellow-feeling with adult women.

Recently, the experiences of younger girls have become more vital to me. In a period of a couple of days, I saw a movie (-The Lover+) about a 15-year-old girl+s sexual and romantic awakening, and then began reading a memoir of the Beat Generation, in which Joyce Johnson vividly recalls her 13-year-old self, uncertainly exploring the world of artists and bohemians.

I sat in bed and read it, captured, as page by page she grows older and her experiences broaden, and I got further inside the details of the life of a girl in New York in the fifties. A spell deepened, which I did not want to disturb, either by stopping reading or by stopping to think too closely. I felt that the hall of my apartment was full of ghosts, moving back and forth. They were an almost overwhelming crowd. The spirits of girls and women had come forth and were a discourse, a traffic, a colloquium and communion of women, oblivious to me specifically, but connected to me, available to me, open to me as one of them. Were they archetypal people, or other people, or fragments of people? Or were they ages and aspects of myself, persons for all the days of my life in which my female self lived silent and dormant?

I have no answer, but that day I was immersed in them, in a warm sea, and they seemed to be passing through my skin, imbuing me with their life.

Perhaps a lot of fragments of people, of personae, are slowly accumulating - all of those things which I might have been, all those experiences I might have had, all adding up. Will they make a whole person whom I can understand some day? Can I ever catch up on all that lost time? Can I, if not re-make my past, at least have a coherent sense of what it might have been, who I might have been, and therefore who I am now?

I need, if not to have a female past, then at least to have gone through layers of growth that can get me to a place of being female as an adult. I cannot leap from male to female, full-grown.

This process does not solve the problem of the physical dissonance, and may in fact make it worse. But I cannot deny the vividness with which I am absorbing new realities, through other people as well as through my own experiences. I know of the ghosts in the hall, in the room, all around me at times, inside me at times.

_ 1993 Katherine Collins

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