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Let Me Lead the Dancing

She is well, anxious to be home, and all is ready. Stephanie is coming home–tomorrow! I spoke briefly to her this evening. Before we signed off, she thanked me for being with her on the journey. She thanked me! Astonishing.

This is the lady to whom I have turned again and again as I worked my own way through this long and tortuous process of becoming Karen. It is Stephanie who has been my mentor and my guide all this way. When I applied for my legal name change, just over a year ago, it was Stephanie who sent me a long and thoughtfully collected list of everything I must do once the approval come through: change the name on the bank accounts, the credit cards, the title on the property, the car insurance and registration…. “This is how you get them to change the “male” on your new driver’s licence to “female,” even though you’re still pre-op. You’re living as a woman. For your own safety, you need your documentation to identify you as a woman.” (There were a few happy tears when the change went through; I remember well.) And on, and on.

It was Stephanie who listened patiently through those painful first few months when I was unwelcome in my own home, and it was Stephanie who celebrated and encouraged me as I reached out and began surrounding myself with new and loving frieneds.

It was Stephanie who shared her cover letter with me–the one that accompanied her referral to MSP for her evaluation for surgery. This was the letter that listed all the documentation she had to support her application. Stephanie, you see, is retired, as I am, and her documents were not strictly within the prescribed guidelines–but they accepted them. It was Stephanie who assured me, again and again, that they would do the same for me. And when the time came to submit my own application, it was Stephanie who advised me to send the package in a month or perhaps even two, before my 12 month RLE was up. (“It usually takes three or four months to get an appointment. Anticipate this, and send it in early.”)

The applicant, of course, cannot submit the request on her own behalf. It must come in the form of a referral from someone with a medical degree. Stephanie sent me a copy of the letter her doctor had written, so mine would know exactly what he had to say. It was Stephanie who helped me cherry pick the documents I had accumulated. (“Don’t send everything…just the most important ones,” she said.) And it was Stephanie who went over my cover letter–modelled on her own–before the package went in. (“I love the wording,” she wrote me, “some of the passages in particular!”)

It was Stephanie who reassured me, when I confessed my fears on the eve of taking this next big step. (“You are ready,” she told me. “Just smile and look them in the eye. Be yourself, and you will be fine.”) She said that more than once. She knew I needed to hear it. And when the approval came at last, it was Stephanie who led the dancing and the cheers.

Now, tonight, on the eve of her return from Montreal, she thanked me, for being there with her on her journey. I am just so grateful to have been allowed to come along for the ride. With all that I owe her, how do I even begin to thank her for being here with me on mine? It is my turn, I think, to lead the dancing and the cheers.

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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