All the good things I can remember about my psychiatrist

…is my prompt.

She had a warm voice.  She seemed easygoing.  She had a professionally warm manner.  She displayed the impersonal empathy I assume therapists are trained to develop.  She tried to help.

She was obligated to help.  She told overlong stories that may or may not have been relevant.  She – or her employer, my insurer – would not agree to see me more than once every two or so weeks right after I came back.  She didn’t have much useful advice beyond the confines of masculine and feminine, hormonal and surgical, legal logistics.  She tended to see me within the confines of transmasculine then transfeminine.  She did not seem aware of the incapacitating internalized transphobia that stayed with me for years after I came back, years after I was outwardly normal.

She was helpful when it came to logistics – she was informed about the vagaries of hormonal response.  She had decades of experience, and approached hormonal changes with confident pragmatism.  When I was going back, she offered me the solidity of that pragmatism.  She didn’t encourage me to worry.

She told me I would probably need breast implants, a few weeks after I went back.  A few weeks after that, she confirmed that I was developing.  She told me I looked definitely feminine when I saw her eighteen months or so after I went back.  She also told me that I had had “the body of a supermodel” before – before I had gained weight.

She had a calm demeanor.

She didn’t much see the need for me to be upset.

I have no idea how much of this is my own interpretation – and how much of it is even my own interpretation – I am looking at all these things not only as a patient, but as a patient several years later.


You might see yourself.

I read The Emperor’s Children liking it enough to finish it, and I was curious about The Woman Upstairs when I read a review.  I found it in my school library’s Popular Reading hash and read it in a single day.  Its protagonist is a failed woman artist – or at least a woman artist who has never become really successful – and the novel charts her through her embrace and then defeat of failure.  I’m disquieted by how much she resonated with me – how meaty her character was, how warm.  Her anger was bracing and savory, pleasurable to read:

“I always thought I’d get farther.  I’d like to blame the world for what I’ve failed to do, but the failure – the failure that sometimes washes over me as anger, makes me so angry I could spit – is all mine, in the end.  What made my obstacles insurmountable, what consigned me to mediocrity, is me, just me.  I thought for so long, forever, that I was strong enough – or I misunderstood what strength was.  I thought I could get to greatness, to my greatness, by plugging on, cleaning up each mess as it came, the way you’re taught to eat your greens before you have dessert….No, obviously, what strength was all along was the ability to say ‘Fuck off’ to the lot of it, to turn your back on all the suffering and contemplate, unmolested, your own desires above all.  Men have generations of practice at this.  Men have figured out how to spawn children and leave them to others to raise, how to placate their mothers with a mere phone call from afar….”

The narrator isn’t venting her anger, but instructing with it, creating:

“But if I can just explain, all will be elucidated; and maybe that elucidation alone will prove my greatness, however small.  To tell what I know, and how it feels, if I can.  You might see yourself, if I do.”

I like the might.

At the end of a page of insisting that men are great because they are selfish, and she will therefore be selfish, she will attain greatness by insisting on her greatness: she just might be worth empathy.  Just might.

I know why this book resonates with me: it’s about a woman who feels betrayed by her friends, abandoned by her dreams, and ashamed of her life.  This narrator doesn’t need to do too much work to connect with me.  But why do I feel so satisfied by it?  Is it because at the end she decides to give herself over to anger?  She’s likeable, even though she’s angry – her anger is entertaining.  She’s personable, and plenty of the story is given over to creature comforts and picky details – in the story of her triply unrequited love affair, they become talismans for affection.

She doesn’t feel pathetic, even though she does all the things that made me feel pathetic.  She feels – and maybe at the end of the book, proves – that giving in to resentment makes you stronger.  Resentment is focus.  Bitterness is power.

I’ve been through several rough and superficially thankless years, and broken off with a dear friend – one who made me feel more connected to my most cherished and most daunting aspirations.  And this idea that I need to be more reckless and ruthless is appealing – it would mean an end to sacrifices, at least the kind you make for yourself.

My workshop director also complained about using “ominous” to sum up my own description of my therapist.

I’m watching a horror movie about a seance investigator lured to a haunted boarding school in Cumbria – all postwar olive and slate grey, wet ivy and thick peaty brown, every texture dense as hedges and wool overcoats.

The colors I associate with my psychiatrist are brighter, yet formally so.  I can’t say any more whether the shades I’ve chosen for her office match the colors she chose; I don’t know how much in concert they were with the clinic building’s interior – or how restrained she might have felt by the color scheme surrounding her office.  I do remember pinks.

Byron Kim is a “narrative minimalist:” he makes canvases with just one or two elements, and then explains why he has chosen these stripped-down pictures.  All are significant to him, and in the series I saw straightforward in recognition, but carry no obvious meaning for the audience.  The works I saw were presented with blurb explanations.  One I remember was a large painting, about my height and beyond my armspan, painted with blurry square patches in mismatching shades of pink.  This was a painting of Kim’s childhood house: he had shown his parents and sisters a set of paint samples, asking all four to choose the color they thought most resembled the color of the house.

He doesn’t say whether he had any access to the original, whether the house could have been found again.  Presumably, it was long sold and long repainted.  Kim doesn’t say whether he had photographs, but sun-spoiled pictures may not have helped.  He doesn’t say whether he used or matched the housepaint colors his family wanted.

The swatches vary in hue and saturation: grey-pink, candy-pink, shrimp-pink, icing pink.  They make a disagreeable crowd, plaster-dull and heavy – these choices of memory insult each other, push against each other.  The swatches are posted alongside the canvas on their white cards with Kim’s family’s handwritten notes – separated and framed by closer variations, they’re harmonious, all appealing, brighter and glossier than on the canvas.

No one in his family chose the same color – Kim consulted them independently; their choices weren’t collaborative.

My memory of my psychiatrist’s office – and her interactions with me – are constituted the same way.  I’m not even absolutely sure pink is the right color – lavender, mauve, grey?  How dark were these colors – how did the light offset the interior?  Have I confused the colors of her suits with the colors of the walls?  Am I muting the colors, or painting the whole room in one shade?

And what does it matter, really, that I can tell my readers what color this room was, what color her blazer was, what color the couch was?

Professional discretion

I worry about criticizing my therapist – in print, anyway.  When I talk about her to friends and acquaintances, I’m much more blunt.  In conversation with one coworker, I called her a dip.  I’ve said that she was no good, harmful, useless, that she was an idiot.

I don’t know how fair this is, but it’s interesting how difficult it is to say this when I’m writing seriously.  Or, rather, how much my opinion changes when I’m writing like a writer.

I’ve talked about how transition began to feel professional – as though I had been hired and was attending periodic performance reviews.  That is, I felt as though my transition was more about my ability to perform – as a man, as a transsexual, as a patient – and I was concerned with seeming both active and cooperative.

Creative writing, for me, is professional as well – at least since I entered a program to oversee my development as a creative writer.  That program culminates in a thesis – a longform nonfiction work about my transition and retransition, certainly including my process through therapy and interactions with my therapist.  So my new sense of professional obligation might be compromising my ability to speak honestly about a former, insidious one.

I may also be dealing with guilt around my transition – and unwilling or unable to lay any blame on my therapist.  I was the bad patient; she wasn’t a bad doctor.  And I may feel intimidated by her – professionally, or in the context of our professional relationship, if not on a personal level.  She is the professional: by virtue of being a doctor, she can’t be at fault.  Phrased that way, this is terrible logic – and any patient who felt that way about their process might have a negligent therapist.  But I am a layperson, and maybe I’m less qualified to evaluate her.  I may feel especially unqualified to evaluate her in writing – especially in “professional” rather than informal writing.

All about my therapist

Three doctors should provide me with plenty of anecdote – I saw them for three years, and they were distinct and colorful.  I can remember specific things they said.

For example – my psychiatrist gave me a graph of genderqueerness.  She believed that only a tiny minority of the population was transgender – she said humanity was ninety-nine point nine percent cisgender.  Within that minuscule subsection, only a tiny fraction – she may have cut them out from ninety-nine point nine percent of trans people – were genderqueer, or ambiguous in their identity.  Almost everyone was the man or woman they’d grown up to be; almost everyone who wasn’t wanted to be a man or woman.

While I was transitioning, she believed that I was conventional.  When I was going back, she said that she had worried, earlier, that I was too pretty – that I would have difficulty seeming masculine.  She said I had gone on to pass perfectly well – I got the impression she was impressed by how well I had seemed to be a man – but that she was confident I would seem normal soon.

So I could still fit into that same majority.

At the time, I didn’t want to be ambiguous at all – I didn’t want an ambiguous body, or an ambiguous life.  I didn’t even want an ambiguous past.  I wanted to erase my transition – and erase the signs of my transition from my body.  I wanted to hear just these words from my psychiatrist.

I also felt deprived of concrete information about how I seemed.  I couldn’t believe that I did look normal, or that I ever would – and I didn’t trust anyone else around me to tell me the truth.  I saw my psychiatrist as my only reliable source.

I may have felt this way because she was initially negative – more bluntly so than anyone else around me.  She told me that I would need implants to have breasts again, and suggested that I make an elaborate production out of my clothing and makeup, so that I would be passably feminine.  She gave me this advice because she saw me – and she said this – as no different from any young trans women, except that I was luckier.  I was devastated to hear that I might need implants – I couldn’t bear the thought of having ruined my breasts, which I had always seen as especially beautiful.

When I saw her again, six or so weeks later, she was impressed by how much they had already grown.  She told me that I almost certainly would not need implants after all.

After that, I trusted her to tell me how I was managing – whether I looked like a woman or not.

joyful noise

We read Dyer in workshop today, and I said that I felt jealous of his wealth of anecdote – he has something to fix on.  I said that I had no problem analyzing some other story or piece of writing – but that it was extremely difficult for me to make something out of my own past.  And I said that I was having trouble writing in a voice that felt normal to me.

When I had a blog, I had no trouble writing fluidly – and now I feel much slower, sometimes enervated.  I don’t know if this extra scrutiny is producing a better voice, but my process is much more sluggish than it was before.

I can still write fluidly when I’m writing rhetorically – but I suppose I’ve decided to separate rhetorical voice from creative voice.  And I’ve noticed that when I try to write rhetoric in part of a creative piece, it sounds much more rarified than straight rhetorical writing.

I’m not sure how to solve this problem.