It commenced with a very stinging needle to the upper right side of my right cheek, in a clinic in Selma. My first shot of estrogen. A little bit of a pain in the ass. The shots of testosterone I had received from my previous doctor’s nurses never hurt like that. Or bled like that, for that matter.
And no congratulations — just the nurse telling me, “Wow — you’ve really got a big butt” as she applied the Band-Aid.
Not that I really needed to hear that.
Except she didn’t mean it in a bad way. She was referring to the amount of muscle she had to push through. I told her it was from riding my bike, and besides, I explained, even when I was a skinny kid, I was an ass on a stick. It was a girl’s ass, big in proportion to the rest of my (lack of) physique, and it was as if my booty was waiting for the rest of my body to catch up, not knowing that my gender/sex wiring had been crossed somewhere in the gestation process.
But after that needle — just like that, I was now officially in the club. I started with my hormone replacement therapy. When all’s said and done, it will either complete me or leave me more of a wreck than I’ve ever been.
Five days and still no sign of no boobs or mood swings. What the hell’s going on here?
I didn’t really expect to physically start the girl side of my life on Tuesday. My last visit, about a month ago, the doctor told me my bad cholesterol was too high, my good cholesterol was too low, and I really needed to drop weight. She had me see an in-house dietitian, wrote me a script for a cholesterol med, sent me off to Walmart to get it filled and told me to watch what I ate and to exercise.
My doctor is a post-op transsexual, very conservative and cautious in her approach, and my therapist warned me early on that she was a fitness fiend. So I wasn’t put off that she put me off a month. Besides, she also wanted to see whether the cholesterol med, Pravastatin, would harm my liver before she started me on the hormones, which could really do a number on the liver if not careful.
But the weight she was asking me to drop? OMG! She’s talking about me getting down to 180. That’s 100 pounds from now! OK, 103.
I’ve been carrying a lot of excess weight for a long time now. It’s no secret. In a perfect world? I’d be the 168 I was when I graduated from college. That was more than half a lifetime ago, when my life was a lot more on-the-go. I haven’t seen the good side of 200 in 20 years, and at the worst of my sleep apnea crisis, I was a morbid and humiliating 320.
But my first visit to the doc in early March, I weighed in at 309. (I said I wanted a second opinion — the doctor said “OK, you’re ugly, too!” Couldn’t resist a good Rodney line, and I do a mean Rodney.) No matter that at least a couple of pounds was the birdseed that passes for boobs. I had spent half of the previous four months back in Connecticut, which meant a lot of sitting around, good home cooking, restaurants and some depression noshing. I knew I had put on some weight, but I hadn’t been that heavy since I started my apnea treatment. That scared me.
I went home and got on the bike faithfully for the next three weeks, watched what I ate — totally swore off Easter candy — and went back for my followup. I had lost 19 pounds, which was good, but the doc said my BMI, my body mass index, was 42. Forty-two percent body fat, according to the charts. That qualifies as obese. That scared me. I have no problem getting on a bike and going 15-18 miles at a clip four or five times a week. That doesn’t sound obese to me. Besides, I live in Fresno. You wanna see obese? You should see some of the muffin tops and beer guts parading around, seemingly without the least bit of embarrassment. Dayyy-um!
But I know better. The weight is what made me a fat and ugly guy. Then again, I’ll contend, with my best 20/20 hindsight, that a lot of that weight over the past two decades has been depression eating. Physical baggage to complement my emotional baggage. My feelings about myself were what made me eat to excess, which made me a fat and ugly guy. And now a fat but good-looking woman. Or at least a fat and good-looking something in between.
I think every horizontal growth spurt I’ve encountered since my metabolism slowed down in the late ’80s can be traced to something traumatic. The initial weight gain? I ate, partially because I wanted to keep up my habits and will my body to play along. (Hahaha.) Lost my hair? I ate. Breakups after long relationships? I ate. Being dumped out of the blue for no reason after three weeks? I really ate.
Depressed because my job was beating me up and because none of my friends ever called me to do anything? Hell yeah! There were a couple of spells in the late ’90s/early ’00s when I would go to the Stop & Shop a couple miles from me, at the Amity Shopping Center on the Woodbridge/New Haven border, and buy chips and dip and half-gallon tubs of ice cream every other night and nosh absentmindedly while playing on my Sega Genesis for hours on end — feeling sad and miserable and trying to stimulate my numbed soul while numbing my taste buds the more ice cream I ate at one sitting. (If this sounds depressing, living it was much worse.)
The last time I made a concerted effort to drop weight was 1999. I was a wretched 276 back then. I stayed on a very disciplined, portion-controlled program of exercise, diet and herbal supplements at my gym. In three months, I dropped to 241 and was flying. Then I plateaued and couldn’t get lower — not even under 240. Then I got frustrated. Then I got depressed and ended up worse than when I started. Then the apnea kicked in and it became a self-perpetuating cycle — especially as my body was increasingly at stress and producing more and more cortisol as a defense mechanism, and cortisol makes the body store fat.
And the worse my self-esteem became, and the more isolated I felt from most of the people I knew, the more I ate. I’m sure this sounds all too familiar to anyone who has ever dealt with overeating problems. And besides, food just tastes so damn good! I’ll contend that overeating is just as bad a habit to break as alcohol, if not worse, because you just can’t quit eating and expect to live. I mentioned this once in an email to a musician I knew who’s a recovering alcoholic, and I believe he did get mad about that — as if I were demeaning his situation, which I certainly wasn’t — since he stopped corresponding after that.
The weight slid off after I started my apnea treatment three years ago; I dropped 40 pounds in six months. But I didn’t help myself much on the eating front; old habits are hard to break. But with the transition — and an increase in my self-esteem to near-human levels — has come a renewed effort to drop the weight once and for all.
But with the possibility of transitioning looming so tantalizingly close, I’ve had to come to grips with some things.
I wrote in my previous post about transitioning about how I’ve been going through an extended blah; some of it may be pollen-related, some of it might be a hormonal shift after giving up the testosterone shots my previous doctor had me on. It’s been a struggle to keep up being good sometimes. I gave up bike riding for about a week because the allergies were so brutal, but for the most part, I’ve been slugging it out. And I haven’t been a total angel with eating; in addition to the fruits and veggies and Kashi cereal and nonfat milk I bought my last two trips to nearby Winco, I bought bulk bags of the cheapie version of Smarties. No chocolates or chips, but this was bad enough.
But I’m persevering. The bags of Smarties aside, the only sugar I use is the Sugar in the Raw with my coffee. Since white bread, processed meats and hard cheeses are no-nos according to the dietitian, my favorite deli in Fresno, Piemonte’s, has been off-limits. And I’ve been extremely conscious to avoid anything with high-fructose corn syrup. (You know how hard it is to avoid that shit? It’s the single-worst-for-you food ingredient out there, or at least neck-and-neck with partially hydrogenated oils. Ban it from food products and America’s obesity problem will start to right itself. Of course, that will never happen as long as the agribusiness lobbyists buy themselves a few senators and a few well-placed news articles …)
But all through the ups and downs of the past month, a mantra has emerged and keeps running through my head:
“How badly do you want this?”
Do I want at least a shot at happiness, or do I want to sabotage myself just at the precise moment I have a chance to break through decades of vicious cycles and really enjoy a much better life?
Do I want to throw that all away? Because I don’t think my psyche can stand another major hit, which is what I’d be inflicting on myself. And I can’t envision myself going back to full-time manhood and expecting to want to live. And as dual-natured as this hardcore Gemini is, I’m tired of the inbetweenie phase I’ve been living. I’ve lived the life of a miserable male long enough.
Anyway, that brought me back to the doctor Tuesday. It was a screwy visit. I waited in a room for a half-hour, alone with walls full of SpongeBob, Squidward and Patrick, before the doc came in. And when she did, I found that no one had brought in the lab report on the blood test I took last Thursday at the hospital next door (which itself had been an hour wait just to draw blood for 20 seconds). Then another 15 minutes for the staff to find the labs. Finally, at long last, the doc had the info, just as I had about run out of patience. But I held my tongue. And she was apologetic; it just seemed like that sort of Monday, except it fell on Tuesday.
Anyway, the nurse had recorded my weight as 129. Way too much of a weight loss. (The doctor told me the previous visit that 1-2 pounds lost a week was sustainable.) Anyway, she had weighed me in kilograms, and out the doctor went to convert to pounds. (FYI: Multiply kilos by 2.2 to get a close-enough weight in pounds.) She came back and told me my 129 kilos translated into 283 pounds — a loss of seven in the past month. Plus, she said, my cholesterol was still a little high, but had gone down considerably since the last visit.
“Congratulations on your good start,” she said.
She was happy that I was making progress and convinced that I was willing to make the effort. So …
“I think I’m going to start you on the estradiol cycle,” she said.
Estadiol is the major estrogen in humans. (Its molecular structure is what graces the top of this post.)
This ride is about to start. Please fasten your seat belt.
She was going to start me with one shot every three weeks, to see how I’d react to it. Then, if that went well, it would go to dual injections — estadiol and Depo Provera, and that eventually I would be injecting myself. She told me it’s a protocol that she developed herself, and that she was her own guinea pig when she transitioned (“I wouldn’t try anything on you that I wouldn’t try on myself”), and that she was writing a paper about the process that she’ll probably present next year.
“You should start to see physical changes in two to three months,” she said. I would start to feel sensitivity in my breasts, and my aureoles would begin to enlarge. Eventually, she said, my breasts will grow to full size, but that would take two years.
“If you’re planning on any augmentation,” she said, “I wouldn’t do anything for at least a couple of years. Some girls have breast augmentation too early, and their aureoles haven’t grown, and it looks ridiculous. And some are late-bloomers, and they don’t develop until much later, after they’ve already had the enhancement. So I would hold off on that, or facial feminization surgery or whatever else you might want to do.”
“I’m not planning on getting the feminization surgery,” I told her. That’s horrendously painful. The doctor knocks you out, busts up your face and rearranges the broken pieces to make your features softer and more feminine. Transitioning girls with more manly features will occasionally subject to this in order to pass. (What price beauty?) Luckily, I’ve been told enough times that my features are pretty feminine already, and the hormone therapy might soften them further.
“You’re in a state of flux,” she cautioned. “Don’t rule anything out. Don’t rule anything in, but don’t rule anything out, either. It’s very early in the process, and the further you go along, you may change your mind.”
“Well, I’m approaching this as an adventure,” I told her, “so I guess I should just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
“That’s a good way of looking at it. You’ve done very well with your social transition, and now it’s time for your physical transition.”
“That’s been going well,” I replied, talking about the social transition. “I got a lot of kudos at the wedding I went to Saturday.” My friends Billy and Corie got hitched out at a nearby winery, my first wedding in eight years, and I knew a lot of the other guests. I got a lot of compliments on my dress, a sleeveless white-with-black-floral-print number. It was matched with my go-to black cardigan, white tights, black patent Madden Mary Jane heels and — in homage to Retro Rag, the Tower District vintage clothing store where Corie worked until it abruptly closed the weekend before — a headband with a white bow and black veil netting that she had made and I bought last fall.
“That’s great,” she smiled, and she doesn’t dole out smiles very often. “You do your makeup well and you dress pretty. You’re coming along very well.”
And then she said something else that struck me: “You’re becoming an ambassador. You’re an ambassador for trans people out in the world at large.”
Well, it’s nothing I hadn’t given thought to already — I’ve jokingly told some friends that I’ve now greatly expanded the circle of people in the world who know a trannie. But I really have. I’m pretty certain no one in my family, even Ken and Cher, had met a trans girl before I came out. And most of my friends hadn’t. (Well, me winning first prize as Madonna on Halloween in ’86 at the Grotto, New Haven’s semi-legendary alt-music club, doesn’t count — even though more girls hit on me that night than ever before or again in my life.)
And probably a lot of the strangers I encounter in my daily travels as well. Last night, I went to a May Day party that one of the Tower District regulars, Paul, a American history professor at Fresno City College, throws annually with his wife, Mary. I met two of Paul’s American history colleagues, Alan and Kathy, and Alan’s wife, Helen. We got into a pleasant and lengthy conversation off a tangent I started about how different life is in Fresno from Connecticut — and Helen and Alan chimed in that they once lived in Connecticut. In Middlebury, two towns west of Prospect, on the other side of Waterbury. And along the way, the gender thing crept into the extended conversation, and none of the three batted an eyelash. In fact, Helen (a fellow estranged Catholic) suggested to me that if I’m looking for a spiritual home, to try the Methodist church she attends, which she told me was very warm and accepting.
Anyway, while I haven’t camped out in the trans social community, I’m well aware of some sense of responsibility as a representative of us at large, and I’m making sure every step of the way that I’m doing this right, whatever “right” means. I make sure I pass as well as possible — I make sure my makeup’s okay; that my clothes are at least age-appropriate and match well enough; and that my mannerisms don’t give me away. And slowly, my voice is coming along as well — if not in pitch, then at least in a softer tone and some change of nuance.
So the one thing we didn’t do Tuesday was a full physical. That’s the second time that’s happened now — the doc just runs out of time when she gets to my part of the day. That won’t be a problem next time, though — my next appointment, in three weeks, is at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m.
She then left me to the nurse. But not before imparting to me another pearl of wisdom: “At a certain point, this is all going to be mundane,” she said. “This will become everyday. You’ll gonna miss the excitement of the transition.”
“I already feel like that to some extent,” I replied.
The exhilaration I initially had when I’d do my face just right or slip into a cute pair of shoes isn’t there anymore. It’s all become a regular part of my life now. I don’t obsess anymore — in terms of makeup color combos, what top/pants/skirt/dress/tights to wear, what flats or heels — I’ve learned to flow with whatever I feel at the moment. I might try on a couple things when I dry off from the shower, but that’s it. I just don’t obsess. But that’s fine. With the everyday feel of the social transition comes the sense that not only has much of the excitement passed, but so has most of the anxiety as well. My family and friends know. Strangers know and most don’t seem to care. It’s now just a matter of getting a job as my better half.
I went home early that night and hit the bed before 11 — I needed to be up by about quarter to 5 to get ready to head to San Francisco early Wednesday for a transgender job fair at the LGBT Center. I had a hard time sleeping — I’d been looking forward to this job fair for a year, since I read about it after the fact on the Chronicle’s website — but I did feel a couple of sensations that were different.
I felt occasional tingles of electricity dancing around in my head. Electrical sensations aren’t new, but these were tiny, intermittent tingles. I’d never experienced the sensation quite like this.
And I also felt this incredible sense of calm. The last time I felt this while drifting off to sleep was the night in January of 2008 when the inner voice of HAL hit me and said, “Yes, you are a woman.” I felt an incredible but fleeting peace at that moment, and what I felt Tuesday night came awfully close. It’s not quite serenity, but mentally I’ve felt a lot better since Tuesday. Maybe this is part of what the hormones will do for me as I progress, only on something close to a permanent basis. One can only hope …