Month: February 2016

Taking the Red Pill?

So a certain package from an off-shore pharmacy arrived in the mail today — but since it was sent registered mail I need to pick it up at the Post Office.

It would be apropos if the pills are red, since they’re where one see how deep the the rabbit hole goes. (Postscript: It turned out the estrogen pills were red.)

I’d always intended them merely as a diagnostic test — I’ve got an appointment scheduled for mid-April to do things the official, safe and sane way.

But just ordering them seems have turned out to be it’s own diagnostic test. When I saw the notice in my mailbox, I wanted them. I really wanted them. Which definitely seems to indicate something.

What happens tomorrow? Not sure.

Pacing Myself

Thanks for folks at the My Husband Betty forum for helping me take a step back — it’s easy to get wrapped up wanting to potentially move too far too fast.

I did an email consultation with a second surgeon — sent him photos and he sent back his assessment and recommendations, as well as a Photoshop’d picture showing the sort of changes he’s envisioning. Unlike the first surgeon, he didn’t draw up a laundry list of everything he could do… in fact recommended against getting a brow lift simultaneously with rhinoplasty, since he thinks the swelling from the former can interfere with the former, and then went on to say that I should think about skipping a brow lift together (he’s concerned about visible scars, and my brows, while on the low side for a female, are within the “normal” range of where they’re positioned.

Help make me realize that I’d gotten a little obsessed about wanting to do them. I still would like to raise them and arch them a bit, but it’s definitely worth weighing the costs and benefits of doing so.

Meantime, I sent pictures off to a third surgeon for an assessment, and scheduled consultations with two more in the Bay Area — although one is so booked that the first opening that they had for a consultation alone was mid-June. A little tough thinking about waiting that long to at least start with rhinoplasty, but OTOH gives me more time to really dive deeply into learning as much as I can about the various procedures.

Also set up a consultation to potentially start hormones — although that doctor is booked until mid-April. Just as well, I’m not quite sure I want to start just yet until I get past the more painful parts of electrolysis, and it’s more time to give thought to pretty significant decision.

Speaking of electrolysis… my electrologist has been hitting the upper lip pretty hard and it looks like we’re pretty close to clearing it. Most of the patch she cleared last week remained clear and this session she got most of the remaining half-inch stripe. I suspect she’ll need to hit the stripe again more than once, but the end is in sight.

And tonight, I began my first of what will be weekly sessions with a speech therapist. Mostly intake, baselining and goal setting, but we did get to do some work, and we immediately made progress on something that has been bugging me. It’ll take work to perfect, but having someone to provide feedback was valuable in helping me figure out what to do.

It’s also good to feel like I’m making progress, even if there’s much to do — so, so much to do — and it’ll take a while to go there.

Hiding in Plain Sight

So I if go with Plan A and continue long-term dual living (a man at work, a woman outside), I probably have a better opportunity for doing so than many others.

At work a lot can be chalked up me being a performer. I already have long fingernails that are usually painted, and wear stud earrings that are larger than the tiny ones that men usually wear — albeit not nearly as big is the fashion for some younger men. My hair is starting to get long, and if I continue to grow it out, it’ll probably be shoulder length by the end of the year. OTOH, there’s guys with long hair.

I thought I was leaking gender all over the place, but when I came out to a co-worker, she had no idea. Fortunately Silicon Valley is a pretty casual work environment with more than a few eccentrics anyway.

This holiday season I didn’t bother to shorten my nails, albeit I did remove the polish and no one seemed to notice at Christmas dinner, even my uber-conservative relatives.

Since I’ve already got jowls, the increased facial fat from hormones probably wouldn’t be too noticeable. Likewise, even some breast development would be chalked up to man boobs. Obviously if I grew to a D-cup, which is about what I’d need to be proportionate with my body size, hiding them wouldn’t be practical. But everything I’ve heard suggests that I’m unlikely to have anywhere near that much growth, especially if I only do a low dose of hormones. OTOH, I’m not wild about wearing baggy clothes in guy mode, since I’d still like to look put-together as a guy.

Plus as a friend mentioned, there’s a number of people who’ve continued to work in guy mode after starting HRT —including another friend, with whom I might compete for the world’s slowest transition.

One thing that I’ve notice is that my voice is doing some interesting “code switching.” Outside of work, even in guy mode, it’s become higher and more expressive. Not in the stereotypical “gay accent” sort of way, but definitely a quasi-woman-ish kind of way. More of an effusive gentle guy, albeit admittedly, it does probably make me read as gay to some folks. There is often a slightly different undertone with interactions with women — baristas cashiers, etc. — not the “woman to woman” kind of changes I get when I’m in woman mode, but subtly different than the usual guy-mode interaction.

Whereas at work, I find my dropping and becoming a bit more resonate than previously — it is my “authoritative professional” voice, just even more so. Part of it may be that I’ve switch work groups, so I’m having to establish myself with a bunch of new people.

But both at work and outside work, the changes in voice are totally subconscious.

What does “done” look like

So what “done” look like is boiling down to two possibilities:

  • I continue dual living with some body feminization — i.e. let my hair continue growing, finish up electrolysis, get a nose job and brow lift, hair transplants, maybe a lip lift later on. Possibly hormones, and possibly at a low dose. But not so much of either that I can’t pass for male during work hours (and with the relatives during my annual visit). Alexandra at Virtual FFS thought that since I already have higher-than-typically-male amount of facial fat, and my upper face is already androgynous, that facial changes due to hormones are likely to be far less noticeable than most people. But that’s also a question for the endocrinologist. Albeit it’s all just educated guess until I do it.
  • I transition to living as a woman full time. In which case, I’d also look at getting breast implants, as well as cheek implants if needed. And obviously there’s the whole social transition/job transition issues.

The deciding factor will be the amount of body dysphoria remaining once I finish up the stuff for Plan A. If I continue to feel a strong to desire to have breasts (and hips) those aren’t the sort of thing I could disguise and continue with Plan A.

FWIW, just because I could theoretically transition this fall once the blocking factors are cleared, doesn’t necessarily mean I’d do so. It makes sense to wait a couple months to see how I feel, and for several other reasons it also makes sense to wait until 2017. Among other reasons, that when I’d start putting together specific transition plans for work, document changes, coming out to family, etc.

The good news is that much of the stuff for Plan A is the same as the lead up to Plan B. I’m also an infomanic, so information gathering/planning is part of how I deal with issues.

But obvious going from A to B is a huge step. I’m frankly not sure how acceptance of a transition in place would go. Officially, I doubt it would be a problem. Will people accept me as a woman? Probably most will some won’t. That’s undoubtedly true of any transition in place. Do I expect to be there three years after transition. Probably not. Both for transition-related reasons and that it’s probably time for me to move on anyway. So the age discrimination issue is going to rear its head anyway.

I’ll probably talk to a recommended headhunter to get her take on the lay of the land. Yes, that’s a bell that can’t be unrung, but I’m leaking enough gender anyway that it’s probably something I’d have to give her a heads-up about, even if the plan is to continue dual living.

Making progress on things will likely help take the edge off too — right now I’m in that stage of electrolysis where I’m starting to see some results, but feeling like damn I’ve got a long way to go.

Today was 25 hours and she spent almost almost the entire hour on the upper lip. There were two small spots that were cleared, but by the end of the session she’d fully cleared everything except a 5/8-inch wide vertical strip under the nose. Some of it probably will come back, although she’s hit most of it before so it’s definitely finer that it was, so maybe it’ll surrender this time. But getting to the point where the upper lip is permanently cleared will be a big morale booster. We’ve mostly taken a “thinning” approach rather than a “clearing” approach, which is a better overall, but does make visible progress slower to appear. Especially since the beard is so blonde it’s hard to see, so changes are less apparent period.

Boarding the Pink Rocket Ship

The military says no plan survives contact with the enemy…. Slow and steady, one step at a time, that was the plan. Now the avalanche has already started, it feels too late for the pebbles to vote.

Last night I placed an order for hormones from one of the offshore pharmacies, one that supposedly will ship them to you even if you never get around to sending them a copy of their prescription. (But don’t worry kids, it’s supposedly one of the legit ones, selling actual brand name drugs, not knock-off imitations.) You’re not human tonight, Marlena.

May I be the first person to say that self-medicating is probably a really stupid and potentially unsafe thing to do. And yet here I am. I may not take them, maybe just having them around will be enough to take off the edge. Or maybe I will see the endocrinologist in San Francisco, who’s well known for working with trans people regularly. One who doesn’t require a referral from your regular doctor. The good news is that he’s part of the same medical group as my regular doctor — meaning he’d have access to all my medical records. The bad is that he’s part of the same medical group as my regular doctor — meaning my regular doctor will see the visit in his records. Again, it might not actually involve getting a prescription, and he may/may not require a letter from a therapist to start hormones. But I’ve got enough questions about hormones and hair issues that it’s worth a consultation.

Yeah, but who am I kidding… I really want to try hormones. Now. They’re obviously not a sure-fire indicator, but enough people seem to find it helps them get a better read on where they’re at, that it I’d like to see if it does the same for me. I like the what people have said about the subtler changes it brings, even if the potential loss of libido scares me. And yes, I’d like the ways in which it would make my body less male and more female. I’d like to see the see if it takes the edge off. Maybe a low dose for the time being. Because I could really use that right now. I’m still not hating living as a man, being in a male body, but I’m…. I dunno… restless. I’m impatient with the wind, I’m waitin’ here for somethin’. Here we go again. You’re not human tonight, Marlena.

The rational part of me knows that probably some of this is because it’s been a rough week or so. Nikki died and the reality of it really started sinking in Tuesday when I got back from L.A. In some ways we were closer that my biological mother, who I talked to weekly and see a couple times a year. I saw Nikki every weekend and she called/texted me constantly during the week. Kind of drove me crazy, but I knew she was lonely. My electrologist’s son died a week ago Monday, in a particularly random and tragic manner, doing the sort of stupid shit college kids do, except this time it took a lethal turn. The MC for the monthly drag show I do had another heart attack. Not sure how she’s doing because she’s pretty secretive about her health. Several other acquaintances had deaths of loved ones. Yeah, I’m feeling my mortality a bit. That Valentine’s Day is coming up and once again it’s really hard because it seems unlikely I’ll ever find someone who loves me and wants to be with me. Now wait a minute, you’ve got plenty of time left. There’s someone out there for you, somewhere, sometime. Yes, definitely, amirite? You’ve got the wrong attitude, Marlena. You’re not human tonight.

I did my first consultation with a surgeon about facial feminization surgery on Monday. One of Beverly Hills’ surgeons to the stars, who’s supposed to be amazing with noses. The Great Man Himself was an arrogant SOB, in other words a typical surgeon. Not particularly receptive to some of questions I had about various alternatives. He very well be right, but, he wasn’t great about elaborating about why he ruled out these alternatives. He seemed to think my hairline was pretty receded and advocate a flap technique that he invented and is well-known for. It does seem to give good results, but it looks pretty invasive.

On the good side though, even though (as expected) he gave me the laundry list of all the things he could do — totally more than $60,000 — he was quite willing to prioritize what he thought what was important to do and what were nice-to-dos. They largely mirrored my own opinion. He did suggest (as a lower priority) something I hadn’t heard from the woman at Virtual FFS — something called a pre-jowl implant that would reduce the prominence of my chin by filling in the “dents” on either side of it, between the chin and the jowls. Something to look into, even if I’m not terribly convinced I needed it.

He’s still on the short list. Like sales people and lawyers, you don’t necessarily need to like your surgeon to work with them. Which makes me so different from a lot of people on the transsexual surgery forums I’ve been hanging out lately, where a number of people seem to have girl-crushes on their favorite surgeon.

It was also good to start getting a sense of the order of things. Nose and probably a brow lift would be first up, probably later this year. The latter isn’t entirely necessarily, but I like the way it would open up my expression. With this surgeon, since he’s got the forehead open, he’d do some grinding down of my minor brow bossing as well. OTOH, I’m not wild about a larger surgical incision, although it’s shorter than a full coronal incision — and he argued that’s actually not that much longer than endoscopic incisions. That said, I’ll be interested to talk with another surgeon here in the Bay Area, who does brow lift/brow reduction via incisions in the eyelids.

Hair transplants would be next — although a hair restoration regime seems worth trying first. One more reason to start hormones sooner rather than later. In the meantime, it’s still worth doing some consultations with some hair transplant specialists to get a sense of what the worse case scenario might be cost-wise.

Finally, after waiting to see what hormones do, I might consider a lip lift and cheek implants — the Surgeon God of Beverly Hills felt my face and declared that my cheekbones are flat enough that I’m unlikely to develop them on their own. May be true, OTOH, since both should be in proper proportion to my face, it makes sense to see what that new face looks like. Plus, the woman at Virtual FFS said hormone-related changes in muscle tone can affect the “mustache muscles” underlying the lip. And last but not least, the particular technique this surgeon advocated (lip lift with a bit of additional fat transfer) does leave you with duck lips for 3-4 weeks. So that’s a factor. If I do transition to full-time, I’d like to take three months off work, both to do surgeries (I’d probably get implants at that point), and to allow a “reset period” in people’s minds, so that could be a time to do it.

All of that said, do I need to do any of these surgeries? Not necessarily, I generally am treated as a woman, and while wigs can be a pain, I’m used to wearing them. But yeah, I’d like to do at least some them, for myself, for when I look in the mirror without make-up on.

Mostly, I just want to be done, even if I’m not sure what “done” looks like.. Before all of the past week’s events, I’d already decided that I want to see if I can add a third, and sometimes even fourth, electrolysis session per week. Assuming I’ve got 80 hours to go, that would reduce the remaining time from 10 months to 8 months or less. If I start estrogen and anti-androgens now, in eight months or so, hopefully I’ll be adjusting to being estrogen-powered, and getting re-centered. I’m trying to start speech therapy next week, even if it likely has to be once a week instead of twice a week as the therapist would prefer. But I’m not starting from zero, and realistically it may take longer anyway, since I’m having to switch between my masculine and feminine voices, rather than being able to use the latter consistent. But eight months of work is still likely to make some good improvements by September. Would I want to transition to full-time in late 2016 or early 2017. Not sure, I’d have to decide when I got there. But the blockers to doing so would be cleared.

Yeah, I seem to boarded the Pink Rocket Ship without realizing it, and now I’m watching the Earth starting to recede into the distance. I supposed I’ll need to pepper my Facebook page with pink butterflies and start wearing heels when mountain biking. You’re being snarky, Marlena. You’re not human tonight.

Burning Daylight

A friend’s comments about burning daylight* are circling around my head.

I’m sitting with my drag mother, Nikki, for what may well be the last time. More than six decades of a hard life are coming to a head. She’s been ill health for a couple years — AIDS, diabetes, kidney problems, a couple of mild strokes and a mild heart attack a couple week ago. She just beat pneumonia, but now she’s not eating and it looks like her body is just shutting down. (Postscript: Nikki died the following morning.)

It’s been a complicated relationship. Like a number of artists she’s been of a bit of a manic pixie dream girl — self-absorbed and self-centered, and generous to a fault. Street smart and oddly (and often charmingly) naive about the larger world — when I went to Antarctica last year, she wanted me to be sure to take my drag along in case there was a club where I could drop in and perform.

Pretty soon I’m going to leave so I can pack to go down to the OC straight from work tomorrow night, so I can celebrate Mom’s birthday. Off will come the nail polish, off will come the earrings. My hair that’s growing longer and longer, well that’s going to be hard to hide.

Many things will be left unsaid. ‘Tis our Scandinavian-German heritage at work. But I also won’t mention that I’ve got a second wardrobe crammed in my suitcase. That I’m not actually going to the airport Sunday night. That I’m doing my first facial feminization surgery consultation on Monday, since there’s a surgeon in Beverly Hills who looks promising. That I’m in far different place then when I came out to her a couple years ago as “just a cross-dresser.”

I tell myself that I don’t want to raise where I am today until I know myself where I’m going. That it’s harder for people to see the real me if I tell them that I’m more comfortable as a women, but then spend at least another year or two living as a man (at least as far as they see).

There’s truth in that. But it’s also true I’m a bit afraid to update her. She was supportive after my initial coming out — but it’s always felt like there’s a bit of an undercurrent of don’t ask don’t tell. She’s 82, from a different generation. She may be supportive but worried about what her friends will think.

I want to be patient, I need to be patient. Things are going to take time. No way around that. But damn I wish I were past them, that I was starting a new life in the off-world colonies, instead of watching the daylight burn.

* A film industry slang term. Used as a way to tell actors and crew to hurry up as natural daylight wanes. Since the sun’s position and quality changes throughout the day, sunlit shoots can be challenging to match later in editing, so it’s important to get scenes done efficiently.

There’s a New Me Coming Out

I posted this on Facebook (in the account under my stage name). The positive response has been touching.

Enough people have asked, so I might as well clarify things…

Yes, I’m trans. Yes, I’m transitioning. What I’m transitioning to remains to be determined (although as a friend aptly put it, for someone who’s not sure if she’s transitioning to living as a woman full-time, I’m sure doing a good imitation).

But a sage friend once advised: do only as much as you need to — and no more — to deal with your trans-ness. So I’m taking things step by step, and then seeing whether that step is enough.

In any case, things take time… I’ve started removing my beard, which typically requires 100-200 hours of electrolysis (1), and I’ve probably at least 8-10 months to go to go. After that, I’ll probably start hormones and it takes 6-12 months to adapt emotionally to the ways in which estrogen rewires your body, and it’s not a good idea to make major life changes until you’ve gotten centered again (2). There are likely to be other renovations along the way, timing to be determined, and preparing for them takes time. Retraining my voice takes months.

Will those changes be enough to reach a detente with my body dysphoria? Will continued bigendered living — working as man and otherwise living as woman — be enough to resolve my gender dysphoria? We’ll see.

The “standard narrative” is of trans people who knew at age four that their bodies didn’t fit their minds, who either transitioned at a young age, or who’ve now broken through internalized shame and repression, and are now on a fast-track to transition. But those folks are only the tip of the trans iceberg (3), non-transitioners actually vastly outnumber them, but they’re generally so deeply closeted that they’re the vast “dark matter” of the trans universe (4). For many years I was one of them.

The gender dysphoria has been slowly building over decades. Something shifted a decade ago and I felt compelled to go out in the world and interact with people as a woman. But I was still OK spending the majority of my time living as a man. During the past year something has shifted again, and the “middle path” between genders doesn’t seem to be the road I’m on any more. For a number months now I’ve been still working as a man, but otherwise living as a woman.

I’m fortunate, I don’t hate being a man (5) — but I’ve realized that I’m happier and more comfortable as a woman. I’m also fortunate that I don’t hate my body the way some trans people do, feeling like it’s alien with alien parts. Am I uncomfortable with my body? Sure. Some of it is the sorts of things caused by the way society inundates women with body shaming messages. Some of it yearning for things I don’t have. Some of it is making peace that there’s things I can’t change (e.g. I’m always gonna have wide child-bearing shoulders). Some things I can —and likely will — change (6). Some changes are compatible with continue bi-gendered living, some of them would force the issue of full-time transition.

Full-time transition is scary for a lot of reasons (and I didn’t have fears, I’d be worried), chief among them: being able to earn a living. I’m privileged to have a job that’s in demand, that pays well, that I generally enjoy. But age discrimination is definitely a thing in Silicon Valley. So is gender discrimination, and the combination could be a career-killer (7). The flip side of being privileged is that you have further to fall. So it’s possible I might continue bi-gender living because of that. It’s also possible I end up feeling that’s a risk I have to take in order to feel whole. We’ll see…

In the meantime, if I seem distracted, if I seem distant, or if I’m withdrawing into my glitter cave, it’s because gender dysphoria in general and contemplating transition in particular, takes up a lot of mental and emotional energy. A friend of mine said it feels like simultaneously planning a wedding, planning for your first child, and running a marathon every day. She was only partly joking. I don’t mean to go all emo and make it seem like I’m consumed with stress and anxiety. But yeah it’s there, and sometimes I am preoccupied, or I’m worn down and need to recharge.

If I sometimes seem socially awkward, sometimes it’s because of the above. It’s also because I’m playing catch up in learning how to interact with the world as a woman, especially in the company of other women, especially as a woman interested in dating other women (8). I’ve felt a bit like Elsa, closely watching the world outside, but walled up away from from it. Unlike a Disney movie though, now that the gates are being flung open, I’m not able to magically fit in like I’ve been part of that world my life.

But I’m learning. I’m evolving. We’ll see where I end up.

We now return you to your regular programming….

1) No, I can’t do laser hair removal, since the hair is blonde.

No, hormones won’t get rid of it — they don’t affect post-puberty changes (including beard, voice changes and other things). Which is why puberty blockers are such a big deal for trans kids, it buys them time to reach adulthood and can legally make decisions about the kind of body they’ll have.

Yes, it hurts. A lot. It also requires me to grow beard during the week between sessions. Gender-wise that’s really uncomfortable for me to do. I just try to embrace the suck.

2) Which is a polite way of saying that estrogen typically heightens emotions significantly, so just like 13-year-old girls flush with adolescent hormones have to learn how to manage that, so would I. (FWIW, for trans guys, going on testosterone typically means they get to experience what being a 13-year-old boy pumped full of adolescent hormones is like.) And yes, there are physical changes as well, which is kind of the point. Probably not as much as I’d like — due to being older — but OTOH, more limited changes are more compatible with a life short of full-time transition.

3) Not to mention that there’s other “visible” trans people who identify as gender queer, non-binary, etc.

4) Also part of the “dark matter” are the people who go “stealth” post-transition, i.e. they don’t mention their history and are perceived as cisgender. For those folks who are freaking out over the thought of trans people in bathrooms…. trust me, you’ve already been sharing bathrooms with them for quite a while, you just never realized it.

5) To steal from a friend, my male identity is like a well-worn, trusty work truck. It gets things done, it pays the bills. I honor it, it’s gotten me through decades of life. But it’s not really me anymore.

6) And unless you want to sleep with me, any changes under the hood ain’t none of your business. If you do want to sleep with me, let’s definitely talk.(dick pic senders need not apply).

7) I’m especially wary after just watching a friend’s workplace change from highly supportive to a toxic work environment, after management— who initially were behind her 110% — caved in the face of employees who refused to recognize her gender, and management tried to do the “well both sides have merit” thing. Which is a problem when one side wants to be treated as a human being and the other side isn’t remotely willing do to do so.

8) I actually identify as pansexual, but I’m mostly attracted to women.