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Number 16

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"Where dreams are the stuff reality is made of"


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"What Comes After"

There is a tendency, when changing sex, to stare into a blank wall. The mind propels itself forward only to the moment of completion, then falls short of the other side, plunging instead into an abyss of uncertainty. One entertains fantasies of the life that will be without truly considering what will become. It is as if the Dreamer takes a tangent path like an illusionist's left hand, distracting the audience of our conscious from what the right hand is doing. Transition happens right before our eyes, yet we see it not: our attention is elsewhere.

What Comes After is not fantasy. It is not dreams or speculations. The reality of the New Life is not unlike the old one, yet so much different.

I have been reading "Orlando" of late, written by Virginia Woolf (who drowned herself in 1941). Losing myself in the twisted, ornate passages, I can see why. Orlando succombs to the same foggy urging of an emotional imperitive that I, myself, have suffered in the vortex, caught up between the masculine and feminine on the way from male to female; sometimes touching down in one land, other times remaining aloft in uncertain currents for weeks, only to alight once more precisely where I started. No doubt, Miss Woolf suffered similarly.

Orlando is a young nobleman, as we meet him. He is wealthy, respected, able, and lost. He can find no meaning or solice in his fotune, station, deftness or love. He leaves his country as Ambassador to forget his lack of focus through imersion in details of protocol. And there, in another land, he awakens one day to find himself female - yet, surpisingly, unperterbed by the fact. Through three centuries, Orlando seeks self-knowledge: some scale by which her essence can be weighed. She rises in society, then cavorts with call girls; expresses the essence of femininity, then dresses as a man to move more freely in the world.

From the Elizabethan Age through the Restoration and on to the Victorian Age, Orlando remained essentially unchanged; experiencing the same feelings from another point of view - but the person themselves continued unaltered. "And so she began...thinking...how very little she had changed all these years.", muses Orlando at the hand of Woolf. "She had been a gloomy boy, in love with death, as boys are; and then she had been amorous and florid; and then she had been sprightly and satirical; and sometimes she had tried prose and sometimes she had tried the drama. Yet through all these changes she had remaind, she reflected, fundamentally the same."

These thoughts have been my own. How I have suffered that I feel unaltered in spirit, indentical in outlook to he whom I have supplanted. How hard I have yearned for a sense of difference. Where is the change I risked so much to attain? When can I call myself "woman"?

"'After all', she thought, getting up and going to the window, 'nothing has changed.'", says Orlando. "The house, the garden are precisely as they were. Not a chair has been moved, not a trinket sold. There are the same walks, the same trees, and the same pool, with, I dare say, the same carp in it." My own diary mirrors Orlando's words: "Its strange to contemplate that someday, the changes I have set in motion may seem commonplace. The strangeness of my new body has become its normal feel, and the question, even awareness of what sex I am, what gender, never enters my conscious thought. What then of my life? The wind still blows, the sun still shines."

Where is the future I stuggled so hard to achieve? I am still married to the same woman I have been with for almost 18 years. My children have grown some, but they are essentially the same. I live in the same house, visit the same friends, play the same games, both for fun and emotionally. Where is the change? When will I get there? When will I be a woman?

My friends say they first noticed it maybe a year to only six months ago. That would be about one year to 18 months after surgery. I only noticed it in the last month or so. All the little, slow moving things that add up to a big holistic change. In and of themselves, none are particularly noteworthy or noticeable, yet taken together, the overall effect is both substantial and basic.

Every part of how I measure who I am from the kinds of thought I entertain to the emotional responses that just happen to the physical shape and feel of my body to the level of my strength and the way my "insides" feel (from heartburn to exhaustion) have all moved just far enough from my former self to have stretched the rubber band of recognition so far that it snaps back with, "This is not the same person as the one you had in mind."

In other words (fewer words!) I have changed gradually so much that who and what I am now can no longer be defined as who I was by any measurement. The stretchy state of shifting spectrum eventually has to result in red becoming purple, then blue, then green, then yellow. Yet, where upon that spectrum one becomes the other is a fool's consideration. Still, somewhere, somewhen, one wakes up, stares at the rainbow and says, "Well, yep. I used to be red, but damned if I'm not yellow now!"

So, that's the story - its not specific effects, but the holographic effect of all the little standing waves in the interference pattern of the dynamic process of change that have taken on a different pseudo-structure. I no longer entertain any doubt that I am Melanie now, not Dave. And such odd juxtapositions as conversations with old friends upon memories of the way we used to talk, getting made up in the mirror and then viewing a video tape from Christmas of five years ago, recalling an unfinished thought from before transition and realizing the logic no longer makes sense - all these little signs force one to accept that the self has shifted, though still feels like self.

Then one has a choice of becoming scared and scampering, terrified, back along the path that is no longer there (as it is erased behind our heels as we journey) until we are lost and cold and alone OR ignoring the end of the road and pushing on past the light into the heart of yet another jungle OR "getting it" - that one has actually become. Becoming is no longer required. Transition never changes, it just changes direction. To stand at the corner of "Male" and "Transition" streets and take a left turn onto "Female" requires not becoming, but being. Two years after surgery (this January 9th). FOUR years after beginning to live as Melanie. SIX years after seriously considering this path. All the magic numbers line up - they have to: they're magic numbers! And when totalled, they add up to one. Me.

And what of Orlando? What of Woolf? Well, Orlando finds her answer, laying entwined in the roots of the same Oak tree she sat by as a boy - the Oak tree that has proven her only consistent focus throughout the turmoil of her self-consideration. Her eyes fly wide, her yearnings stop, her happiness begins. But Virginia does not share this revalation with us - it is for Orlando alone. Perhaps because the author had not found it for herself; perhaps because we all must find it for ourselves.

So, in the end it is not a change in our selves we must seek, but a change in our sense of ourselves. We will always feel like we no matter how different we become. Yet, we can stand back from ourselves, take a wider view, sense not the flow of one day into another but the dividing lines of months and years. We carry the past with us like a big tail - the wake of a boat, not sure if we should judge our path by the waves off the stern or the stars off the bow - and unsure if we are wagging the tail or it is wagging us.

"Am I pretty?" (Compared to what?) "Am I old" (When?) "Am I a woman?" (Says, who?) You'll stare into that brick wall, chasing your tail and leaving circular wakes until you get it: the wall moves with you. It is the horizon line of self awareness and we can't see anything beyond that. But we don't need to because its really just a matter of focus. For when we shift our view from the spatial "Who am I?" to the temporal "Who am I NOW?", then we see that the wall is really not a wall at all, but a mirror. And the edges of our own self awareness are not the ends of the earth, but the shape of things that came.

So, "Who am I?" becomes "How am I?", describing the the process, not the state. Being a woman is not a condition but a way of life. It is not a structure, but a dynamic. We will never find the answer until we realize that it lies in the kinds of questions we ask. We self-define; we are recursive, reflexive, and reflective. The farther away something appears, the closer it is to home. The wall before us in only dark because it is a mirror. The shining light at the end of the tunnel is the sparkle in our own eyes. Look deep into that light and see yourself.

"In Verse"


If you could look into infinity,
all you'd see is the back of your head.
And if you were living forever,
you'd clearly be nothing but dead.
But if you jump out of the system,
where time is the flip-side of space,
you could be anywhere,
though you'd never been there,
and you'd stare right back into your face.

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Melanie's Wise Words of the Month

From my daughter, Mindi:

"There's this girl, Stephanie, at school who keeps trying to be perfect. And you know, that's what's wrong with her!"

May you never find occasion to say, "If only....."

The Subversive #16

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