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.


Brow Bar

I wrote in the last post that I saw my doctors as my supervisors – and my psychiatrist was almost like a manager, a superior.  This isn’t to say that she ever put any explicit pressure on me to transition at any particular speed, let alone to undergo any procedures or identify any certain way.  I believe she would have been receptive towards ambiguity, and maybe towards doubt, but she approached everything as convention – she clearly believed that I was normal, and expected me to follow a normal path through transition.

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I had the closest working relationship – working relationship! – with my psychiatrist during transition.  I spent the most time with her during retransition as well, although we only scheduled a handful of visits before she referred me to another therapist.  I remember her as pastel.

She favored pastel pantsuits in loose cuts – pink and orchid.  Her office was decorated in pale beige and pink.  There were two windows in her office, separated by a section of wall on which there hung an Impressionist garden scene.  The light in her office was soft – the windows faced south, and she pulled blinds down to shade her office every afternoon.  She had a soft, reassuring voice, too.  The clock on her table was turned to face away from me.  Clients sat on her couch, which I believe was dove grey.

Female Trouble

So I got into a fight with Rebecca Solnit, but only because she thought I was attacking her.

She linked this article on her facebook page, and one of her commenters responded with,

Ummm. Lots of us female scientists u can ask too

And I responded to say that this comment was transphobic, because it implies that trans women are not female but male.  I also said that I disliked being referred to as “female,” because it’s sexist – and it’s used, very frequently, by sexist men to say that we are similar to spaniels and milk cows.  I’d quote myself here, but Solnit deleted that comment, and responded:

Ugh. A remark from a stranger so hostile and misdirected I deleted it (it included an ugly face of what I was supposed to be for not toeing her idea of a party line). The reply I decided to leave: The point is that people who now identify as women who have lived as men and vice-versa have unique first-hand experiences of being both major genders. Obviously I think women are experts on female experience–I, a female-type person, like, wrote a book about that–but trans people have a useful vantage point. And sometimes it’s what they don’t know that’s telling–like a person who formerly presented as male who doesn’t know she’s supposed to get out of the way of men and so keeps bumping them might notice that in ways women who’ve unconsciously just gotten out of the way all their lives might not. People accuse me (and anyone) of the craziest things. Because accusatory is just a habitual style of discourse nowadays. #newpuritans

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What I wanted – more than my psychiatrist’s hormone graph – was for a doctor to put his hands in me.  I spoke with my psychiatrist over the phone, and she was reassuring, not least because she offered a guarantee, but I wanted to see a doctor face-to-face.

I’m not sure what outward signs I was picturing – wounds or cysts, granularities, occult changes to inner surfaces.  There would be no way to tell if testosterone had somehow destroyed your menses, even if that were a consequence of exogenous testosterone (it isn’t).  I thought a physical exam would ground me in health.  It was a way of becoming a woman again, an immediate stopgap while I waited for my period to clock me on its own.  Via my gynecologist and his instruments, I knew I had an inside.


My second doctor was my gynecologist.  The last time I saw him was over a year after I stopped transition, when I was trying to get extra birth control pills before going abroad again.  I asked him for six months instead of just three, on the grounds that I would be out of the country and away from my doctor – but still paying full premiums on COBRA for what I thought qualified as decent traveler’s insurance (I later found out that it covered “life- and limb-threatening” catastrophes only).  It didn’t work – he refused on the grounds that he had no idea how long I would have insurance (this turned out to be fair enough) and that, who could tell, I might sell them to someone else.  Apparently the Pill is a high-diversion drug.

During that appointment, which I meant to be just a quick consult on birth-control (and on getting a couple packets of Plan B for emergencies, since who could tell how much access I’d have to a free clinic or ER), he did a cursory pelvic exam.  He was very brusque – I undressed as part of procedure before he came in, and I believe he had a speculum in and out within a minute after he had me climb up on the table.  I remember being a little bemused – I hadn’t requested a pelvic exam, and probably wasn’t due for one.

He was tall, and I remember him as gangly.  I remember his hands as big, square-knuckled, red – this was probably because he was my gynecologist.  I also remember him with raw gums and prominent, yellow teeth, balding with – and I remember being surprised once or twice to find him less toothy, less yellowed, than I remembered.  He was intent on being friendly with me, probably because he was a gynecologist.  I remember him as expansive in his gestures.  I see him leaning back in his chair, towering over the exam table.  I doubt any of these memories are accurate.

I went to my gynecologist’s office every two weeks for my testosterone injection during the entire two and a half years I was transitioning, and sat awkwardly in the fifth-floor lobby (obstetrics and gynecology) until I was called in by my legal, recognizably female name.  The injections were overseen by a nurse – after a year or so, I would slide the needle into my own thigh and depress the plunger on the syringe.  It was always difficult, and became even more so as time went on.  I don’t know if this was a cue to my doubts – I think it probably was just a reaction to needles.  I’m not physically courageous, and had trouble sticking myself.  The fluid would leave a tenderness under the skin, like a bruise without the color.

My gynecologist actually saw me only a few times.  I went to him after I started retransition for reassurance.  He gave me a pelvic exam not long after I stopped taking testosterone and I asked him if I was normal, if everything was all right.  He assured me it was.  And if he did say that I would “never be exactly the same,” it would have been at this visit.

None of my doctors seemed worried about me – or inclined to see my condition as serious.  They may just have been trying to keep me from sliding into despair, or they may have been convinced that I was and would be fine.  My gynecologist told me I would bounce back.

Actually, my internist was less sure of that, or at least of the science that would allow for any timeline.  After my first appointment with him, when he was so nonplussed at my breakdown, I called him asking when I would start menstruating again.  And he said, “Well, if -” and I of course was hugely upset.  If? If?

So I called my psychiatrist.  She broke my menstrual cycle into its peaks and troughs and plotted, to within a few days, menarche after ceasing testosterone.  She was totally matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and certain that I would have no long-term problems.  She turned out to be right.

I also went to see my gynecologist for a pelvic exam, so that he could tell me I was in working order.  I was afraid I had damaged myself in some subtle, permanent way.

Bleached concrete

My internist was stocky, but I don’t remember him as solid.  At this remove, it’s hard for me to see how much my sense of his appearance and demeanor are affected by my dislike.  I remember him as narrow-shouldered.  I picture him looking down at papers or away at the screen where my patient records were displayed.  I picture another man’s fumbling after geniality.

It isn’t only separating personal animus from professional evaluation; I can’t separate the part this man played in my history – all my own shame about what happened, all my trauma and self-loathing – from simple dislike.  I don’t think I ever did like the guy – I don’t think he made a favorable impression on me at first, even when I felt sure of myself.

He was replaced as my doctor when he left my insurer’s clinic.  I wasn’t notified ahead of time, or offered a choice of new doctor; I found out that he was gone when I called to make an appointment and was told I would see someone else.  That man I liked, but maybe that’s a measure of relative peace four months later.  It could be simple contrast.  I remember my replacement as easygoing, informed, and responsive.  I trusted him, and through him his employer.