The date was April 27, 2010.
The location was the clinic next door to, and affiliated with, Adventist Medical Center in Selma, California, a small and dusty farming city (mainly grapes), 20 minutes south of Fresno via Highway 99.
The doctor (who, as of Spring 2015, retired from her practice to move to the Northwest to be closer to her son and daughter) was a post-op who had lost her job up in the Northwest a few years earlier due to prejudice, and the only place she could find to set up anew, after much searching, was there, in Fresno County. There, her patients included young families, mostly Mexican farm workers, looking to treat their sick children … and transgenders, mostly male-to-female, who were looking to take that next leap forward.
And this was huge because in a county of a million people, there were only two doctors at the time who prescribed hormones. One was in Fresno, a man who gave his patients their hormones in pill form. The other was this doctor in Selma, who not only administered the estradiol in injection form — a more effective method — she was post-op, using the same conservative protocol on patients that she used for her own transition.
And that afternoon, she left the honors to the nurse, who told me as she readied the needle, “Wow — You’ve really got a big butt” — which, at the time, wasn’t fat, but mostly muscle from bicycle riding, so it actually was kind of a compliment.
And a shot to the right cheek, in the delta area between my lower back and my ass, and it was done.
Except for all that has happened since. And as of today, it’s been five years after I crossed one of the biggest Rubicons I had to cross in my transition.
I guess, as a changeling Gemini, I have a problem with permanence. I’ve come to realize that I like fluidity, and what I like one day, or at one point in my life, I might not like at another point.
I mean, I occasionally think of getting a tattoo. Started thinking of it 30 years ago, when I started hanging out at New Haven’s (literally) underground club of the time, The Grotto. At one point or another, I’ve thought of getting any of these: a Sacred Heart of Jesus (over my heart), a New York Giants logo, a logo of The Fleshtones (my favorite band these past three decades), a New Orleans Saints fleur-de-lis, or a transgender symbol — a circle with the male arrow, female cross and one that incorporates both. But the permanence of having something I couldn’t remove (at least without great pain and a wad of cash) made me decide otherwise.
(Not to mention seeing relatives growing up who had tattooed forearms from their time in World War II — hula dancers that had put on a ton of weight, script writing on forearms that blurred like markers on paper in the rain. And with all the weight I’ve put on since my late 20s, I cringe at the thought of huge blobs of shapeless ink where the tats of my 20s would’ve been …)
And hormones are forever. (Cue up Shirley Bassey singing it in the background …) The therapist I saw in Fresno in order to be cleared for hormone replacement therapy (in the year or so before the Standards of Care protocol for trans patients seeking HRT was relaxed, so that therapy wasn’t required) warned me that the effects were permanent, and so did my doctor.
Just as testosterone leaves its marks (lowered voice, sharper facial features, facial and chest hair, sometimes thinning hair up top, a sex drive), so do estrogen and its synthetic substitutes (boobs, a softening of features, a slowing of facial hair growth, accumulation of fat in the belly, loss of bone density and muscle mass).
Was I ready for all that?
I had a little lot of thinking to do.
What if I went through with the hormones? What if decided at some point that I didn’t want to continue with the transition anymore, and ended up with something bigger than man-boobs?
By the time I started seeing the therapist in September 2009, though, I had already been living what professionals call RLE — real-life experience — as my femme self for a few months. I had been teaching myself to walk more gracefully, been putting together a wardrobe suited to my body shape (or lack thereof), and thanks to my closest friend in Fresno, Heather, reminding me occasionally “You’re eating like a boy” when we went to dinner. I was walking and sitting more gracefully and trying to train my voice to project in a tone higher than male without sounding phony.
And I was ready.
I did, though, have speed bumps the closer I came to starting hormone therapy. And it was a healthy thing. Occasionally, I would stop and think to myself, “Do you really want to do this?” And I would ask myself in return, “Can you see yourself living the rest of your life as a man?” And I would think of the fat, schlubby, balding, miserable lump I was, wearing anonymous sport shirts and black Dockers to work every day, and realize I was much happier in a skirt and makeup and cute shoes, and then carry on.
I was green-lighted for HRT very quickly — took an involved psychological test two months after I started with the shrink, was given the green light in January, shortly after returning to Fresno from home in Connecticut for the holidays, and set up my first appointment with my doctor in Selma.
Who refused to give me the hormones because I was too fat and my cholesterol was way too high. She sent me to a nutritionist, I went on a cholesterol drug, and I took to the bicycle with a little more fervor. In March, she was satisfied. And my appointment for my first injection was April 27.
I harbored a little anxiety leading up to the visit, but again, I faced each mental speed bump with the same question: “Can you see yourself going back to living as a man?” And each time I knew the answer.
And when the nurse finished shooting me full of estradiol and slapped a bandage on my butt and sent me back to Fresno, I thought, “Well, that’s it? I don’t feel any different …”
Patience, my dear …
It hit me two days later, when I woke up:
“Holy shit! I’m not depressed anymore!”
From just after the onset of puberty, I had lived with the dark cloud over my head, like Joe Btfsplk from the Lil’ Abner comics. Except it really wasn’t that funny. Combined with the low self-esteem I already had from years of taunting by other kids at school, I sunk into a perpetually black place. Every day my last three years of high school, I thought at least once of killing myself, or how much better life would be for everyone if I were dead.
I never acted on my darkest impulses … or did I?
I always did have a healthy appetite, and by my late 20s, after five years or so at a desk job at my first newspaper, I started putting on weight. And I ballooned from a rail-thin androgyne in my 20s to looking like an office manager in my 40s inside of a few months. And the depression began to really cycle. Food made me feel good, so I ate a lot of it. Of course, the back end was that I kept getting fatter.
And my really black moods would last days, weeks, months.
In the fall of 1987, I realized that I was always the one calling my friends to do things, but no one bothered to call me. It was the start of a tailspin. For the next three months, I stayed home except to go to work, and for the first and only time in my life, I grew out my beard — long blonde hair and a Barbaraossa-red beard. That lasted until after I saw the Christmas photos of myself and saw that I looked kinda like Aqualung. Also, my beard started itching badly. People still didn’t want anything to do with me, but after three months, I cut my beard off and started slowly emerging into the real world again.
And in the late ’90s — stressed from working 55-to-60-hour weeks at a thankless place, and lonely as all hell despite knowing a ton of people and having a highly visible job — I would spend hours on end after work sitting on the couch, playing any of a number of games on my Sega Genesis, always with a bag of chips, some dip and/or a half-gallonish of ice cream by my side. This would go on for months at a time.
And around the late ’90s, I started having trouble sleeping. Tossing and turning wildly. And on those occasions when I had a girlfriend, or something similar, I would be told how loudly I snored. My last girlfriend told me years later that she never slept a moment when she was with me because I would constantly stop breathing.
My sleep apnea came to a head in the spring of 2007, and I caught it before it killed me. Sleeping more normally helped immensely at first, as I dropped 40 pounds of water weight rather quickly and my spirits brightened. But eventually, I was back in darker surroundings.
And the dark loud was never far away, even after I had my little gender epiphany in January of 2008. And the rain came in earnest when I was discarded by The Fresno Bee in a mass layoff in March 2009.
The darkness descended after I came out to my family in Connecticut that September, just about the time I started with the therapist; the weirdness with my family would last 14 months. And the joblessness dragged on and on, and my resumes went down hundreds of black holes, and all I could think was failure. Again, I went into the rabbit hole for days, weeks, months at a time.
But two days after my first injection, I woke up feeling in an incredibly bright mood. I realized I didn’t see a figurative dark cloud overhead. (Literally, it’s almost always sunny in Fresno …)
There would be black moods — and there still are — but they only last hours now, maybe a day or two at the most. And I was still in an awfully bad place because of the unemployment, which stretched from days and weeks into months and years.
But generally, things felt more manageable from that point. It wasn’t always darkness anymore. The darkness was now caused by the stress of extraordinary circumstances in my everyday life, not something generated from within.
The boobs would happen, as would the slowing of facial hair growth. But I discovered a benefit of the hormones that I never expected. I was never clinically diagnosed as depressed, but there was definitely a chemical imbalance I dealt with for 35 years — and accepted as just a part of life. A hormonal imbalance. There clearly was a chemical element to my gender dysphoria, and one that disappeared with my first estradiol shot.
These days, my gender thang is no big thang, except as it pertains to the big-picture matter of civil rights.
I shoot myself every two weeks; the needle doesn’t bother me, except for those occasions when I stick it in the wrong place. I shave once a day, though the hair on my face grows about three times slower than in manhood. (And I did start electrolysis last year with my friend Alexis, but stopped when I injured my knee twice over the winter and couldn’t drive for three months.) My features have softened to the point where many times, people call me “miss” even if I don’t wear makeup. (That happened on the bike trail a couple of summers ago.)
And my girls grew out to somewhere between a B and a C cup. Except that they’re obscured by a huge stomach. The eating and weight are still enormous problems for me. A lot of it has been anxiety eating, and it started when I went back to the work world full-time, believe it or don’t. You’d expect the opposite. But when you go through a five-year period without a full-time job, and you’re constantly worried it will happen again, and the hunter-gatherer in you stocks up on food just in case the day comes again when you’ll be lacking … well, there you have it.
I’m kinda disgusted with myself at this point, from a physical standpoint, but now that I’m rehabbing my injured knee, and going back to the gym regularly, maybe things change. I mean, my appetite ha dropped off some in the week I’ve been back to working out.
But yeah, the weight. And getting back to writing my book, which feels like a ginormous weight. My final two Rubicons to cross. But I’ve crossed a few in recent years already — such as the one I navigated five years ago today.
As with everything in life, until death, to be continued …