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On Jacqueline’s surgery in Montreal

When I had to come home early from my first Esprit, it was Jacqueline who sought me out and sat me down on my last morning, after everyone else had gone off to class or their other activities, and talked to me. She knew I was upset, even though (I thought) I had done a pretty good job of not letting it show. But she knew. And so she sat with me, there in the hotel room and talked to me about the letdown that was inevitably to follow, and how important it would be to maintain the friendships that had grown, so suddenly, and with such intensity over the past three days.

“Did someone say something to you?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I just had a feeling that you might need someone to talk to. I’m a pretty intuitive person.”

Indeed. And a kind and a generous one, like so many of the people I met there. So when she flew back to Montreal, my heart flew back there with her, too.

Jacqueline has had her surgery, and I am over the moon with joy for her. I am so thrilled that I almost have no words to describe it. And I have almost no words to explain it, either. How can her surgery mean so much to me? Almost as much as my hopes for my own.

The obvious answer would be that it gives me hope. She is done with the waiting, the frustration, the gatekeepers. And she has done it despite all the anguish and heartbreak that makes the journey such a long and difficult one. She is proof that despite everything, those who need to make the journey can. If she can do it, then so can I. I am thrilled because she has patiently, graciously, and with more generosity than I deserve, encouraged me and shown me the way.

At the same time, my reaction has forced me to ask myself why actually having the surgery is so important.

Sometimes I imagine myself facing the interrogators at my re-evaluation, sometime next year, I hope, that panel of psychiatrists who have such power over my body and my life. “What difference would it make in your life,” they ask, “to have the surgery you say you want so badly? How do you imagine your life will be transformed? You say it is so important to you; what makes it so?”

No answer seems adequate enough. Perhaps, when something is as important as this, our words fail us. In her blog, Jacqueline says, “It will bring a physical and emotional congruency to my energy fields.” Er…Jacqueline, is that what you said to the psychiatrists? Okay, maybe they didn’t ask you that. But what if they ask me? I know what you mean, but did they? Can anyone outside the experience, anyone who is not trans, possibly begin to understand? This desire, this need, goes right to the core of who I am…and even though I’m saying it, I’m not sure I can explain exactly what the words actually mean. I speak in vague abstractions, because those are the only words that come to mind. Our experience is so far outside anyone else’s, how on earth can we possibly expect that person to recognize something in her own life that comes anywhere close to what we feel? How can you explain the taste of Sauvignon to someone who has never tasted wine? How can you explain the color purple to someone who is blind?

Perhaps the best we can do is by approximation.

Imagine, a woman who is a survivor of breast cancer. She has been down a road that none of us would want anyone to travel. We know this woman. She is our mother, our sister, our neighbour, our dearest friend. She has passed the gates of Hell and returned. Devastated. She feels mutilated. Her breasts are gone.

We get that, don’t we? We understand how she feels. Somehow, she is going to deal with the change, but for awhile, at least, we recognize, we understand, that she feels she is somehow less than she was. That she has lost something precious, some part of her self. Perhaps eventually, she will come to terms with that. Perhaps eventually, she will feel (almost) whole and feminine again. But for awhile, at least, she does not. And we understand.

In a very real sense, our body is our self. And when it is damaged (say) by accident, age, or disease, we are diminished. We are no longer whole.

And while I realize that in speaking of the cancer survivor, I am speaking in approximations, it is in some ways,(not all,) the same for the person who is transsexual, except her body betrayed her at birth, and it betrayed her again when she reached puberty. She never was whole. This is why the surgery is so important. It holds the promise that she actually can be.

So, I ask myself, how will my life be different if I have surgery? I am living as a woman, now. That won’t change. I will still sing in the choir. I will still work in my studio. I will still attend my women’s group. And I will still work at surrounding myself with wonderful and loving friends. How, then will it be different? I don’t know, but it will. For at least five years, I have lived almostfull-time. I didn’t imagine that life would be all that much different once I went completely full-time. But it is. It is richer, fuller, and happier now than I could ever have imagined. I began my “official” RLE on January 31st, about five months ago, and yet so much has happened since then, that date seems a lifetime ago. With the change outside, something changed inside, too. I know what joy is, now. And when I remember the despair I felt in the last few years of my male life, I realize that those years really werea lifetime ago. I imagine a similar change will follow surgery.

It’s as if we could give the cancer survivor back her breasts. This is why I take such joy in Jacqueline’s surgery. After all these years, she can be the person she has always been in her heart and in her dreams…and so can I. The very thought makes me feel luminous inside. It takes my breath away. When I think of Jacqueline, I could weep with joy. In fact, more than once, I have. And why not? We are becoming the women we scarcely dared to dream we could ever be.

It is more than joy. I think the word I have been looking for is luminosity.

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About Karen McLaughlin

Hi, I’m Karen, and welcome to my Cornbury blog. This blogging thing is a new adventure for me, but several of my friends have been urging me to keep one for awhile now. I’ll do my best. I hope you will be patient with me when I stumble, but mostly, I hope that this blog will help make this business of being trans a little less weird, maybe a little less scary. If you’re here, there’s a good chance that you, or someone you know, is dealing with the same issues that I have been. (Please note the past tense. I'm very proud of that.) I want to tell you that it’s going to be alright. You hear that? It’s going to be alright. I’m speaking from experience. So who am I to talk? Well, when I started all this, I was a pre-op trans woman in the middle of her RLE, her so-called “real life experience.” While I had lived (almost) full time for several years, in 2010 I finally decided to seek gender reassignment surgery. (Note: the accepted term for this among medical professionals is now gender confirmation surgery–an improvement, to my mind on all kinds of levels.) Whatever we call it, to qualify, one of the hoops that must be jumped is this RLE. That means living full time in female mode; no going back. Before I could apply for surgery, I was required to have lived as a woman for at least 12 months. The reasoning behind this is that by doing so, the applicant, me, in this case, would have a better idea what life would be like, should she decide to press forward. This meant finally coming out to my son and my elderly father, both of whom have been reluctantly supportive. I have been very blessed in this. Others have not been so lucky. Coming out is risky. Living full time is even riskier. A trans friend of mine once remarked, “Being out as trans means laying everything on the table. And you have no idea what you’re going to be allowed to keep.” You can literally lose everything: family, home, friends, colleagues, job, career, savings, pension, everything. I know people who have. But I have not, though I would be lying to say that this has been easy, or that there have not been strains, and deep, deep pain. Still, I have been blessed with an understanding, if not always totally supportive spouse, and with a family that has tried mightily to accept and come to terms with (in their eyes) the loss of a father and the emergence of this new person, Karen, who in her new hormonal adolescence, seems at times a stranger. (A nice one, though, I hope; one they can eventually come to love.) What I have discovered through all this, is that while the journey into Mordor is long and fraught with danger, it is filled with unexpected beauty and joy as well. Since coming out, (to everyone, family included,) I have been accepted, even loved, by people I never expected would be on my side, and in places I never expected (or thought) to go. In the past few months I have joined an all women’s Latin dance class, sung female tenor in a wonderful choir, learned basic silversmithing, (I make my own jewelry! How cool is that?), and surrounded myself with wonderful friends. I was supported by an amazing counsellor, (alas, recently retired), who connected me with a speech therapist who specializes in teaching feminine voice. (It has taken time, but it’s coming! I can hardly believe it!) And I have discovered that the future is not a road to be travelled, but a landscape to be constructed. The world I live in is one that I am building for myself, and you can do it, too. This one is a world filled with color, with love, and with joy, and for the first time in my life, I feel whole and totally alive. And the voice in my heart tells me, “This is soooo right! And about time, too!”

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