Debra’s Story -
It was another perfect late afternoon in
August 1974 and I was alone in the saltwater pool at the Eden Roc Hotel in
Chrysis was the first transsexual I’d ever met and she read me in a heartbeat. She ushered me into a world I’d only dreamt of for the previous twenty some-odd years. It was a heady experience.
Fast-forward twenty-seven years to Pearl Harbor Day 2001; I’m just coming out a Demerol-induced haze. The previous day, Dr. Toby Meltzer performed my SRS (sex reassignment surgery). I guess that means I’m a woman now, or does it? During those twenty-seven years I flirted with transition, retreated, did an about-face and returned to live a lie for the next twenty years, hiding from who and what I was.
My resignation to probably having to live out my life as a male cast a pall of sadness that generally sucked the life energy out of me. Then, on January 25, 1995, I chanced upon an L.A. Times feature article profiling Dr. Stanley Biber. I’d never heard of him, which only goes to show how out-of-touch I was. The article told how he’d performed over 3,000 SRS’s, how his patients were orgasmic, and how skilled he was that even their doctors couldn’t tell! That was a far cry from the girls I knew back in the 70’s who’d had the surgery and whose results were awful in just about every regard. Now, it seemed, everything had changed. Everything I’d dreamt about and thought impossible no longer was. Still, it was another seven years until I would claim my rightful place on that O.R. table.
My SRS went well. It wasn't long, just 3½ hours. Toby artfully avoided nicking any surrounding organs and had enough penile and scrotal skin to avoid need for a graft so I had minimal blood loss (just 300 cc.) Therefore, I healed incredibly well. Toby says my depth wasn't so much a function of penile skin availability as how much room I had before he hit a wall of muscle. The staff marveled at my recovery, especially considering my age. At fifty-three I was the oldest Meltzer patient there. But for a mysterious debilitating headache on day four and a very sensitive bladder and last-minute swelling that closed-off my urethra just before I went home, I was one for the books. Like most typical Meltzer patients I was walking by day two. It was easy.
Check out visual details
Caution – these are graphically explicit surgical photos
associated with my stay at
A deep, non-female
voice is one of the most nettlesome burdens afflicting most transsexuals. Contrary to the standard joke, neither female
hormones nor even castration can change this.
Some people tried to talk me out of voice surgery and for a while I was
persuaded but I’m genetically predisposed to plastic surgery and when I heard
Toby’s recommendation during his September 2001
A week later Jim Thomas, a Portland ENT, performed a CTA (cricho-thyroid approximation) to raise the pitch of my voice. Sometimes Toby helps out but Jim did mine unassisted. Ten days later I pulled out the single suture and got my first look at the incision. It was already very faint and soon faded to invisibility.
I now know more than I ever thought I could about plastic surgery and have learned a thing or two about scar avoidance: keep the wound (i) warm, (ii) under pressure, and (iii) out of the sun -- away from UV. Covering it with surgical tape accomplishes all three.
This was the final nail in my former self’s coffin, one without which I didn’t feel I could ever be complete as a female. The jury’s still out on that.
The crichoid ring is an attachment point hinged in the rear to cartilage. The front of the ring is suspended between the vocal chords above and muscles below. When the muscles tense they stretch the chords; air passing through stretched chords causes them to vibrate at a higher frequency, just like a guitar string. Relaxing the muscles relaxes the chords which then vibrate at a lower frequency. That’s it. The vocal chords themselves are never touched. The patient is sedated but supposedly conscious and so can respond to the surgeon’s directions to speak when the surgeon needs to evaluate the pitch. I don’t remember a thing. When the surgeon thinks he’s got it right he sutures the crichoid cartilage to the thyroid cartilage. Initially the voice is weak and the pitch very high. The surgical trauma to the tissues causes swelling that shrinks back down after several months, causing the voice to settle down a couple of Hz but the lower vocal register is supposed to be eliminated permanently. Vocal range is cut. I used to have, I don’t know exactly, maybe a three-octave range and I used to sing bass. Kiss that goodbye. I thought perhaps I could expand it by training but it would still be diminished. Sic transit.
I wasn’t allowed to talk for another few days although I could whisper so long as I was careful not to disturb the vocal chords. The danger is loosening the sutures and have the whole thing fail catastrophically, dropping the voice back to where it was pre-op. When I started speaking I sounded like a strangled toad. Girls who've had a CTA tell me they started to sound reasonably ok after two months so I aimed for mid-February.
At first, the throat pain from the CTA was intense but controllable with pain pills (Roxicet). It abated rapidly and less than a week later was just barely uncomfortable. I stopped taking the pills altogether after just a few days.
Six weeks after
the CTA it failed. My voice plummeted
without warning to where it was before surgery and my world seemed to collapse
around me. Dr. Thomas wouldn’t venture a
guess at what had happened until I would return to
The HTA improved
matters but not enough to my liking so in July I had laser-assisted voice
adjustment (LAVA) with Dr. Lisa Orloff at
For months after SRS I still felt the bulge in the mons. It was uncomfortable to the touch and the source of phantom penile sensations. For a few days I could swear I had an erection that wouldn’t go away. Eventually that discomfort passed but I still had the feeling of a penis all scrunched-up inside and a maddening urge of wanting to stretch it out. But that’s where Toby folds and buries the pedicle (the nerves and blood vessels feeding the glans) together with the balance of the glans that he doesn’t use for the clit, which btw was incredibly sensitive … especially at the sutures. There was also some buried clotted blood that added to the hardness (how attractive!) It was eventually reabsorbed and the swelling went away. I also had strange short-lived, sometimes acute pains associated with my brain rewiring the area. When I had FFS (facial feminization surgery) Dr. Douglas Ousterhout cut my forehead nerves, which also generated ‘phantom sensations’. They stopped and after a few months I regained all my scalp sensation so I was unconcerned.
Again, caution -- more graphically explicit surgical photos
(My results resemble pic #15)
The neovagina is cut into muscle which naturally wants to close up so for the rest of my life I’ll have to dilate regularly to keep it open and for the first several months following SRS to enlarge it. At these prices, every millimeter counts! It's painful but bearable and absolutely necessary, unless one acquires a regular ‘biodilator’ ;-) Some girls (not me) don’t bother if intercourse is not on their agenda but even then surgeons recommend dilating, if only to maintain the opening for routine medical check-ups.
I can’t think of anything I’ve ever done so monumentally irrevocable, so over-analyzed and yet in the final analysis ultimately such a leap of faith as SRS. Even my FFS was hedged. Yes, I knew going in that it would greatly alter my appearance. A shrink I’d been seeing, the doyen of gender counselors hereabouts, told me no one would ever read me as a man again (aw, shucks). It was the only thing about which she was ever right. But I had thought that FFS still wouldn’t commit me to leaving my old life behind. Afterwards I wasn’t so sure. Doug Ousterhout made me look like a woman. He reduced my brow bone a third of an inch, moved my hairline down almost an inch, shaved my Adam’s apple to oblivion, and lopped off half my nose. It was a shock when I finally got a good look at my profile, and it took me a good two years to get comfortable with my new look. But it was my Rubicon. Not only did I look like a woman, I couldn’t pass as male anymore. ‘He’ was well on his way to being history. There was no going back.
SRS is different. No one sees what you have (or don’t) between your legs. I know a T-girl who continued to live and work as a male for over a year after her SRS. It can be done. But if you’re actively heterosexual with women (as I was) let’s face it -- SRS marks a major change-of-life. But how does it play out? As I told my therapist, there was no way I could possibly know with any certainty how I would feel when the anesthesia wore off. What I didn’t know is that my moment of truth wouldn’t come until over a week later, just before I was ready to return home.
Not that it describes me, but the TS patient who awakes from SRS with ‘buyer’s remorse’ is every therapist's and every surgeon’s nightmare. I believe it’s an analogue of the cyclical self-loathing and purging most transsexuals experience during our years of inner turmoil. Therapy helps us place the issues that militate against surgery in proper perspective but can never erase them. They're all still there to resurface and wreak havoc again, this time (for me) at the most inopportune moment of all.
I arrived in
Some girls come out
from under anesthesia secure in a dreamy cocoon of finally feeling whole. I didn't and I never got it at any time in
It could have been my failure to truly come to grips with the fact that I'd never again enjoy the unique closeness I knew and cherished of cleaving to a beautiful girl as she opened herself to me and her swooning as we became one, with the feeling afterwards as our eyes meet and we kiss the sweetest of all kisses for having shared ourselves with each other as nature had intended, not knowing whether I'd ever experience anything like it again with another person, male or female. For sure it was the knowledge that I'd cut myself off forever from the norm, that I'd never again be Daddy in a world where almost everyone expects people to be as I myself was raised to believe they’re supposed to be. Without question, it was the stark terror that no one might ever want me again and that for the rest of my life I could truly be alone.
Whatever it was, I felt devastated. Nothing had or probably could have prepared me for this moment and I simply came apart. Toby must have found this just a bit unsettling. Then again, perhaps he'd seen this before. He said nothing, just opened his arms and held me until I cried myself out.
On the drive back to the airport Toby’s driver was telling me about his new girlfriend, how wonderful she is, how much he enjoys going out partying with her to oh-dark-thirty, that this is what it's all about … yadayadayada. I listened, and finally croaked out that what ‘it’ really is all about is getting your child ready for bed. It must have taken him aback a bit, this bit of corn issuing from a trannie of all people, but I think I hit a nerve because when Paul dropped me off at the airport curbside he gave me yet another heartfelt hug.
Maybe it was the way what was left of my voice broke or the tears I couldn’t hold back. It sure took me long enough to get the message. Thank God I didn't miss the boat. I collected my bags and turned to make my own way fully as Debra, on her own at last.
The gate was all the way at the end of the concourse so I asked for a wheelchair. That was a first, hopefully not a harbinger of things to come, at least not until I would have a chance to quench my thirst to experience everything I can during my new life in this wonderful new body. The flight back was largely uneventful. I pre-boarded and sat up front near the forward lavatory. I was still crying intermittently during the flight. Maybe that’s why the stewardess smiled gently and called me “Sweetie” when I asked her for a sanitary napkin. Now that was wonderful.
It was quite late when I finally returned to my hovel. But I still could not recover that pervasive sense of my feminine self that in the end had convinced me and my therapists that SRS was right for me. I can only speak for myself but I’d bet it’s the same for every ts woman. You know you’re ts and that surgery is right for you not because of anything you can intellectualize or articulate but because of something you just feel. I just never got that feeling anytime I was in the hospital. I’d had it throughout the last year, right up to the moment the anesthesiologist put me under. But for whatever reason (see supra) I no longer felt it when I came to after the surgery nor at any other time until the morning I woke up back at home in my own bed. The first thing I sensed then was the void between my legs. It felt right and it felt good, and that good feeling suffused throughout my body. I felt it especially in my breasts, in the smooth hairlessness of my inner thighs, on my lips, in my fingertips and the tips of my toes, and ultimately in a compelling receptivity that pervaded my entire body. Everything came flooding back and told me unequivocally that I truly was female. I knew again why I’d done what I did and that despite all the factors I’d so painstakingly catalogued militating against transition that on balance it was right and really the only thing for me to have done. I’d regained my "she-legs", secure in the knowledge that I’d made a difficult but correct decision.
Even after I thought I’d covered this business exhaustively I keep revisiting it. I see myself remaining somewhere in a kind of limbo for the rest of my life, and that’s ok. That's the message I hear from girls who transitioned under the most optimal circumstances. What choice did I have? To live my one and only life in an inappropriate body when there’s finally an imperfect but reasonable surgical solution? Nothing can ever be perfect. The reasons that caused me to doubt, to wait -- they never completely go away. I just need to learn how best to cope.
I’m more certain than ever before that delaying transition just prolongs the agony and amplifies the dysphoria. Sooner is always better than later and in my book there couldn't have been any such thing as too early. The ideal time to have taken action would have been before male puberty started ravaging my body. Honestly, that wasn’t an option for me. It was my fate to have been born too soon. But early transition is an option now, and when compassionate parents take the difficult step and support their ts children the results are wonderfully breathtaking.
I suppose could have done it when I was in my twenties. It was the mid-seventies and I know girls who did it but they were rare and it was incredibly difficult. I chickened-out. Waiting just built up layers upon layers of male experiences that had to be purged later and from which most if not all my “dysphoria” derives. The desire to fit in just got tougher and tougher to counter and what does it for me is my sense of my femininity. I felt immediately and incredibly close to every other ts patient I met in the hospital. We’d all gone through the same basic ordeal. I know I’ll invoke strong reactions from some in the ts community but for me that includes cross-dressers. The way I see it we're all in the same boat, regardless of how we look or where we fall on the TG spectrum, if for no other reason that we’re all at risk from the yahoo who thinks society has declared open season on Ts of any persuasion.
But we’re not what we are because of how someone else defines us. Rather, it’s because we all, to one degree or another, have been touched by what Anne Lawrence calls “the goddess”. I wonder whom she's talking about: Hera, the jealous aging bitch? Aphrodite, the perfectly lovely airhead? Athena, reliable Girl Friday? Artemis, the castrating dyke? Or is she a lesser deity -- one of the Graces, or maybe a Muse? I think she's a Siren, a temptress who seductively calls to us, we think for our salvation ... or is it our doom? She’s a really devious, crafty cunt, this one, kinda like Darth Vader in drag. When you need her to counter those self-doubts that are causing you to loath yourself, or in my case asking myself, “What the f**k did I just do to myself?” she's playing peek-a-boo or out shopping. And when you think you're back in control she sneaks up on you and spins her web to ensnare you anew. I don’t know why but I forgot that it’s all part of her elaborate game that in the end she always wins. So when that black cloud descended on me Friday night I should have ignored the bad vibes and just waited for her to return. Sooner or later she always does. And some people persist in trumpeting the canard that transsexuality is just another ‘lifestyle choice’. Yeah, right.
My Holy Grail is a
society that is not just transgender-friendly but that recognizes the special
needs ts people have and has the compassion to help those of us who need help
when help can do the most good, i.e., before puberty. No one should have to go through what we
do. Toby told me that in
Why does every
enlightened social advance always seem to happen first in The Netherlands? I
venture there are more social progressives in this country than there are Dutch
in all of
I know there are many fine therapists out there rendering valuable assistance to people who are truly in need but the SOC sweeps us into a one-size-fits-all paradigm and many therapists don’t have the courage or honesty to say to the appropriate patient, “You’ve got your head screwed on right; I’ll write your letter now.” Some of them are clueless; others are downright mercenary. Must we always be at their mercy?
I don’t look
different from the person who left for
After fifty years of wishing and hoping, my most cherished dream came true right before my eyes. Every morning I have to pinch myself. At a time when my contemporaries are into serious retirement planning I feel like a teenager -– and I’ve got the boobs to prove it! I'm acutely aware and so grateful for my good fortune to have gotten a second chance. How many people can say that? Hopefully I’ll acquit myself better this time. I don’t know what the future holds for me but for the first time in my life I can conceive of a future where I’m happy just being me.
* * *
P.S. Five years later and what’s changed? Well, more surgeries for one (or is it two, or three ... who’s counting?) I once read a description of the female breast as the most flattering form God ever created. Ain’t that the truth? Boobs are that indefinable je ne sais quoi that gilds my lily. Hormones alone will grow boobs. The rule of thumb (shouldn’t it be ‘rule of boob’?) is a final result one size smaller than your mother, but that’s if one starts early. Fortunately, the women on my mother’s side have all been very generously endowed.
In late 1974, Chrysis administered a single shot to me containing who-knows-what that with truly remarkable results. My nipples had been typically small and crinkly. The shot caused the underlying breast tissue to grow to, I don’t know – maybe to an A-cup, and the nipples broadened and totally smoothed-out. It was at once exhilarating and scary, because I wasn’t ready. The young woman with whom I was infatuated, whom I hoped would be supportive, was not at all thrilled, and I became severely depressed. I couldn’t bring myself to take this stab at transition any further. It took six months for the hormones’ effect to wear off. I lost all the fullness in the breast tissue but my nipples remained smooth.
Twenty-five years later I gave it another go. But I was now much older and it took me nearly a year to get to a large A-cup/small B. My mother had very large areolas, which I think is incredibly sexy. Mine broadened to a very respectable 1½” across and 2” vertically and my nipples stand out like little pencil erasers, noticeable even through a bra if my blouse is sheer enough. They get even larger when stimulated. J But my boobs never grew larger than a small B-cup so I had saline implants, as required until just recently by the FDA. Moreover, I was always self-conscious about my former male endowment. If I was going to get a second shot in life there was no way I was ever going to consciously compound that error.
I remember looking at myself for the first time the day after my breast augmentation surgery. Ignoring the bandages and the hematomas from the surgery, they looked like they ‘belonged’, that I’d had them all my (adult) life. But saline never felt quite ‘right’ and several months later they started rippling so a year later I swapped them out for silicone. Quelle différence! The salines were a nice size but there are moments when larger boobs are more appropriate J so I went larger on the re-do. Silicone really does feel so much more natural.
p.s. -- The FDA just recently lifted its paternalistic partial ban on silicone implants. The ones they developed in the last several years are very sturdy and use a ‘cohesive’ gel that remains in situ even if the shell does rupture. But I’ve studied the evidence and don’t believe the chorus of arguments against silicone stands up to close scrutiny. The Europeans never believed it.
For a while I regretted going larger because a lot of my clothes no longer fit but over time I lost more muscle mass from my deltoids, plus I got used to my boobs. Now I’m so glad I went as large as I did. Large breasts mask male skeletal features (broader shoulders, narrow hips and longer torso), which, slight as I am, are nonetheless detectable to a discerning eye. But most people don’t notice. Men are typically so preoccupied looking at my boobs they don’t notice anything else. My posture and deportment are so feminine there’s no untoward clue there. I’ve stripped-down with other women at clothes sales and been totally nude in women’s gyms and showers and never drawn a second glance (except perhaps from lesbians). Women have even commented favorably on my boobs without ever questioning my gender.
When I was questioning whether I went too large on my re-do I joined a women’s on-line breast augmentation support group. I outed myself and first asked permission from the webmistress who welcomed then me wholeheartedly in a wonderfully warm and accepting open post to the membership. I was similarly embraced by the women in the group, for whom
I posted my pictures and an earlier version
of this essay. It somewhat made-up for
my having been denied the socialization experience of an adolescent
girlhood. Several of us who live in or
As nice as silicone is it still is not as soft as natural breast tissue. Moreover, men’s pectoral muscles attach further apart on the sternum than do a woman’s. Therefore, without a little ‘help’ from a push-together bra, my boobs still do not come together to form a cleavage. Men know cleavage when they see it but they’re not nearly as attuned to the finer points as are women. But when I’m lying on my side my girls rest on each other deliciously, and they greet me in the mirror every morning to put a smile on my face when I start the day. They make an extraordinarily powerful statement about who and what I am.
Facial electrolysis is a necessity for almost every transsexual who doesn’t transition in her early teens. I never had a very heavy beard. My hairs were sturdy but thankfully relatively sparse but it still took me hours and hours of painfully slow treatments to get rid of what I did have. Some of it I did myself with an inexpensive 9-volt home electrolysis unit (it works) but I also spent several thousand dollars for a pro. I had some skin damage from years of going out in the sun without sun block. Back then, who knew? Plus, I overdid the home-work a bit so I had quite a bit of discoloration and some scarring. Fortunately, facial resurfacing lasers can repair a lot of the damage. Mine was done with an yrbium laser. It was nothing short of miraculous, evening and smoothing-out my complexion and generating new collagen that plumped-out my skin with new youthfulness.
Male-to-female transsexuals actually have an advantage over comparably aged genetic women because male facial skin is thicker, having had to support hairs. Therefore, it ages better. Removing the hairs and estrogen therapy both cause some epidermal layers to thin but only a bit. If everyone stayed out of the sun and used sun block religiously from an early age we’d all look younger. Just compare the skin on the inside of your forearms, which generally is not exposed to sun, to that on the outside, which is. See what I mean?
Most women either shave their legs and underarms while many have some part of their body regularly waxed. I hate stubble and being obsessive-compulsive I wanted all my body hair just gone, so over the last eleven years I zapped just about every hair not on my head or eyebrows. I did most of it by myself, slowly and painstakingly with a home electrolysis unit. I love the result and I know that part of my old self is gone forever, never to return.
My voice settled into its final form about four years ago. Sometimes I still sound like that strangled toad but at least I sound decidedly female, and there’s no chance of my ever slipping back accidentally into a lower range.
And some of the time I’m pretty.
Plus, I’m orgasmic. That took over ten months after my SRS to happen. For the longest time I wondered if I’d ever have another. I’d been such a dog as a guy. Oddly, even before my SRS that feeling kind of evaporated. After SRS I felt I’d ‘arrived’, and the joy of just being female almost obviated the need for sex. I suppose I couldn’t totally obliterate the old me and that need was still there. Sex is part of the human experience, although now it’s the desire for intimacy and to pleasure and please my partner, which were always very strong, that truly define me. Sexual desire is now very, very different. Gone is the urgency and immediacy that characterized my male sexuality. Now I feel myself immersed in a warm bath of sensuality. It takes what seems forever to get aroused but when I do it’s like a persistent, ever-so-pleasant low-frequency hum that radiates outward from my clitoris. And the way to satisfy that itch is also very, very different. No wham-bam –- not anymore. These days I really need to be romanced to get into the mood. Yes, flowers work. Did I mention jewelry?
Someone remarked that the sexual difference between men and women is the difference between a light bulb and an iron. That seems about right. One day I just relaxed with some of my favorite erotica plus a little ahem) and voilà ... what a pleasant surprise! It’s not exactly the same. Yes, it still comes in pulses but there’s no dénouement, no post-orgasmic letdown that characterized my male orgasms, and the afterglow just lasts and lasts... I used to get off fantasizing about being a female. Now that’s reality. I can just luxuriate in the sensation, content that I’m finally whole. There’s no longer any disconnect. And I can be orgasmic with a man in the ‘normal’ way. That too came as a major relief, although getting there takes a lot more effort. I hardly think of sex with women anymore except perhaps an affectionate, romantic interlude. It was nice but it was also fraught with anxiety – having to work so hard for a woman’s favors and too the fear of being rejected. I don’t agonize over that anymore. What a blessed relief!
What about all the women in my life? Was that just a deception, a lie? I don’t think so. My desire and my feelings for them were real and often intense. To say I always liked women would be an understatement. I was precociously romantic and from age five had a near-continuous series of crushes on pretty girls. I believe that evidenced my feminine side, something I recognized clearly when I was three. When I hit puberty and learned about sex those feelings matured into more-than-typical teen-age girl-craziness. In many ways I was a typical guy … but with a twist. I was always looking for a woman who appreciated and yes, would encourage my femme side, a knowing domme who would unhesitatingly read me for what I was and would ‘make me do it’, no prompting required on my part. I did find one, during my last year on active duty, but I just didn’t feel for her and we drifted apart. I wonder… We got back together again some twelve or so years later but by then she had come out as gay. So each of us had an agenda.
In the final analysis, there was no one to do it for me. I had to emancipate myself. I waited a long, long time, until my parents and my sister were dead, when there was no one whose approbation or ridicule I still feared.
Once I did it I realized rather quickly what a fool I’d been, how I’d squandered so many irretrievable years waiting … for what? For someone to tell me I’m ok? My only way to assuage that regret is to help others going through that awful awkward phase find the courage I lacked for so long to confront those demons and make those difficult decisions.
To some degree I was always inspired by the desire to be the women I dated. One, after we’d first made love, propped herself up on one elbow and remarked to me slyly, “You’d like to be me making love to you, wouldn’t you?” It was a rhetorical question. I fell in love with her but she really wasn’t into my head-trip, and her letting me down, albeit lightly, was devastating. Several years later another beautiful, sexy and very knowing young woman asked me, “Do you want to be me or f**k me?” Pretty astute, I thought. My answer to her was, “Both.” I believe what gave me away both times was the way I made love, which is to say, as a woman. It was the last time I ever saw her.
I often mistook infatuation for love but I’m certainly not alone in that. I shared many truly beautiful moments, by which I don’t mean just sex, with a number of wonderfully giving women to whom I will forever be grateful. But that’s part of my past now. I suppose I’m still attracted to women and I can imagine myself romantically involved with a woman but obviously the sexual component would be markedly different. I could never again be the aggressor. How I hated that! Not that I always distained the chase. I was way too sensitive and never dealt well with rejection. It was fun only if the woman made it easy. Finally I realized my role was more properly as the object.
A relationship these days with a woman would, for lack of a better description, be purer -- untainted by the animal lust I used to feel. It would be a much different kind of lust, more Heloïse and Abelard (as long as I get to play Heloïse.) What I get from women now is kinship, being accepted by and a sense of belonging to a sorority, a friendship that in the long run is far more satisfying. It usually comes across in little ways, like the knowing smiles exchanged fleetingly in passing between women touching up their make-up in the ladies’ loo, women who would avoid eye contact with men in public. What some may think I lost I never lost at all. A lot of it has now turned inward into me. To experience it now I need only look in the mirror.
I was so infatuated with women I imagined I was probably a lesbian in very serious drag and would be a lesbian after transition. But transition seemed so impossible the best I sadly resigned myself to going through life as a male, albeit somewhat softened-up.
I later came to understand that my desire for women reflected my (then) sexual preference – not my sexual identity (not to be confused with gender identity). It’s easy to confuse these seemingly overlapping concepts but they are NOT the same! It effectively masked what I think I always knew, that I always would have given up girls in a heartbeat if I could only be one. Now, I wonder if I wasn’t seeking to be with women in part as a way to experience what I wanted to be myself.
What really came as a major surprise is how I’ve come to regard men. As a teen I was homophobic. I couldn’t fathom why anyone would want to be with a man. They’re so rough, so angular, so hairy, so ... un-pretty! At first I freaked when men came on to me. If I’d only known then what I learned just a few years later! Years after seeing “Carnal Knowledge” I had an epiphany when I recalled the final scene with Rita Moreno waxing rhapsodic over Jack Nicholson’s supposed virility. (The film was condemned as “immoral” by the Religious Right, all of whom missed the very moral message that lifelong licentiousness had finally rendered Nicholson’s character impotent without the crutch of an elaborate script. But back then they hadn’t invented.)
When I was nineteen, opportunity conspired with my teenage angst, loneliness and curiosity and I learned what Woody Allen meant when he quipped that bi-sexuality doubles your chance for a date on Saturday night. I was not a prude but still the only way I could overcome my continuing homophobia was to put my head into “girl mode”.
That was pretty much how things went through my twenties, thirties and forties. Then, sometime during my RLT (the one year I had to spend living full-time as a woman before my SRS) something happened. An attractive man hit on me as a woman in a way that instantly resonated to my very core and (strains of Barbra Streisand, please) nothing, nothing would ever be the same. I think it was because he saw me as a woman. Frankly, the way I looked that night what else could he see? He turned out to be a jerk but I owe him for helping me accept myself conclusively as a woman. He was very nice-looking but what I found so attractive was his strength as a man. At that moment I understood what it is about men that appeals to women. I was able to see men as whole beings, real people to whom I could relate emotionally rather than just two-dimensional stick figures I used for sex to validate my budding femininity.
I believe the changes to my body freed-up my mind from the male baggage I’d accumulated over the years. I’m chastened by the knowledge of my limitations – that I can’t bear children, but how many GGs (‘genetic girls’) are in that same boat? (Answer: more than a few.) Still, I recognize that a woman’s fertility and therefore her vulnerability is a primal force driving the relations between the sexes, even as primate society has evolved to put sex to non-procreative use (witness the bonobos). I find comfort in the knowledge that I’m past a GG’s childbearing years and that the men to whom I’m attracted would not be looking for that in me as a possible mate. I’m not bragging but I can, if I want, be sexually intimate with a straight man without him knowing I’m ts. I’ve done it. Still, I prefer a man who knows I’m ts and desires me nonetheless, perhaps even because I am. These men are rare but they do exist, and not all of them are closeted cross-dressers or ts wannabes although <sigh> so many seem to be. Not that GGs do not have a powerful sense of themselves as women but in a ts woman this sense can and often is more powerful, even overwhelming, and it’s this sense of female self that these men find so compelling. Man bites dog, if you will.
There is the irony that most of the men I meet are so focused on sex. Their obsessions with breasts and female genitalia seems so ... quaint. Not that I’m complaining, but talk about cosmic karma! They remind me so much of a certain male person I used to know, usually wishing they’d be more romantic and imaginative lovers … like I’d been! LoL. (But see infra.)
I know you’re curious: Is sex better as a woman? Well, yes and no. It’s better for me in the sense that I’m complete but frankly it’s not nearly as intense as it once was. Maybe I just haven’t met the right man yet. Back when I had an intact set of genitalia and a male sex drive to match sex with women was wonderful. My present plumbing is perfectly functional but if a man is well-endowed someone is going to have a problem because my ts pussy can’t accommodate the whole thing. And while I am sensate and orgasmic my responsiveness pales to my GG sisters. L Males are born with approximately 4,000 nerve endings in and around the glans (the tip of the penis); a clitoris has twice that. (Did you know that the clitoris is the only organ in the human body whose sole function is pleasure?) I lost a few of those precious nerves when my parents thoughtfully had me circumcised and Toby, like many if not most SRS surgeons, uses only about a half of the glans to fashion a clit. So relative to GGs, ts women are neurologically challenged -- do the math. But mine is very sensitive and seems to be getting even more so with each passing day. Beyond that, the brain is the largest sex organ in the body, and I was always very imaginative! ;-) What’s more, I’m reading that the penile skin used to line my vagina, which had been epithelial, turned mucosal after two years, just like a GG’s! Amazing! I’ll be learning new stuff until they wheel me out on the final gurney.
Another very worldly young woman with whom I passed an idyllic teenage summer related as to how one of her college professors characterized women as ‘receptacles’. At the time that observation struck us both as novel and profoundly insightful but I was way too closeted to let on or even realize just how viscerally it registered with me. It kind of grew on me, or really I grew into it. According to the conventional wisdom, real men react with primal loathing to the idea of being penetrated. That certainly was how I was as a teenager, but I was already evolving. Letting myself be exposed to new situations hastened my development. My attitude has matured over the last several decades as I came to terms with who I really am. The concept of enjoying being the f**kee came to me gradually.
I wonder how much my pornography figures into this calculus. Was I always this way and pornography just accelerated my development or would I not have gotten into (whatever) had I never been so exposed? I don’t really know, but it opens the door to the issue of whether pornography is dangerous and should be restricted. I don’t believe sex is a moral issue. People who do think it is are, I believe, frightened by sex because for whatever reason they find it so threatening. They should get a life. The media is so saturated with graphic depictions of violent death – that’s pornography!
I can still relate to how a man feels during sex and I appreciate a man who really is a ‘man’. Not that I didn’t have my moments in my old life when I could play the brute. At times I really got off on it but it wasn’t really my cup of tea, not overtly so anyway. More than one girlfriend remarked that I would bounce back-and-forth between the two behaviors. One told me of watching me see-saw between male and female. Hmmm…. Oddly, when I started getting into men the ones who lit my fire were the ones who were more direct and cock-sure of themselves, the more demanding and sexually selfish, so long as they weren’t jerks. That’s a fine line, to be sure. Men have to know when a woman is saying ‘yes’ without her being too overt and then not hesitate. Similarly, a woman should know how to flirt -- when it’s ok to be a tease and when it’s not. How far can you push it? It’s another fine line but I think I’m particularly well-positioned to know how to navigate those tricky shoals. I like but am not really attracted to men whose general disposition is to be as soft and gentle as I was, at least not all the time. There are moments when that’s appropriate too. I don’t know why but gay men seem to have finer sensibilities for this kind of thing. Then there’s that whole thing with black men (it’s true, btw.) I know I’m generalizing broadly but that seems to be my experience.
I know this all smacks of rank sexual stereotyping but what’s wrong with that? One of the few things I remember from sociology was that we all stereotype all the time with just about everyone we meet. Otherwise, there just isn’t enough time to get through the day. And stereotypes, especially sexual ones, sometimes reflect compelling truths.
What about my
military service? During my four years on active duty I flew the F-4, serving
at the tip of the spear in one of the most macho environments going. Then I put
in twenty years in the Reserves, retiring as a Commander. Was all that a lie too? I don’t think so. Yes, I knew it would give me credibility and
help me deflect what I perceived would be the inevitable fag-baiters if and
when I ever did transition. So in that
sense it was a front. But it never
occurred to me to try to dodge the draft.
To be perfectly honest, there was a war going on and while I would never
say I was an enthusiastic enlistee neither was I reluctant. I’ve always recognized the need for everyone
to participate in national service. It
shouldn’t be a choice. Also, I’m
Jewish. Regrettably, American Jews still
regard the military with mild disdain.
My father did. To a degree,
college a year after the
I have mixed feelings about not having gone to war. I’m now glad I didn’t. I came late to the realization how wrong the war was but at the time I was swept-up in a very bellicose culture. That experience taught me more about human behavior than I learned from thirty credits of sociology classes. But I didn’t get my ‘fruit salad’ (combat ribbons) and I don’t have the ‘I was there’ pedigree that I could drop subtly at an appropriate moment, perhaps at some cocktail party to enhance my stature.
My feelings of duty, patriotism and of belonging to the greater society are entirely independent of my sexual identity. It’s a sentiment that I know is shared by GG servicewomen and thousands of transgendered veterans, many of us serving in elite, front-line combat units. A little overcompensation perhaps, but honorable service nonetheless.
I very briefly entertained then rejected the idea of staying in the Navy after my obligated service. I quickly realized I wasn’t the type. Not that it would have been a bad career move, especially when I contemplate the pension I would have been drawing for the last seventeen years.
I suppose I could
have gone into the JAG to become, as they’re affectionately called, a
“JAG-off”. The government might even
have paid for law school. A pilot in my
squadron went to
Unfortunately, the television show “JAG” did not accurate portray life as a military lawyer. It’s my understanding that JAG lawyers spend most of their time busting gays and petty dope offenses. Still, I can’t help fantasizing about transitioning and then serving en pleine femme. The woman officer’s uniform would have been simply smashing, especially with my wings and ribbons!
I toyed with transition when I started law school but the transsexuals I met (Chrysis and her friends) were consummate demimondaines, making do from sex-work. Not that I couldn’t have done that but full-time would have been a bit of a stretch. I had no idea it could be possible to live a normal life as a transsexual woman, holding down a regular job. Today it’s almost commonplace but thirty years ago it was virtually unheard of. Only a very few ts women were doing it and at the time I had no idea they existed. They were all in deep, deep stealth.
I think I was deterred primarily because I couldn’t look in the mirror and see a woman, even though I was always slight with somewhat delicate features. It was years before anyone started doing facial feminization surgery (FFS). That was my sine qua non, so after a brief dalliance with Chrysis and hormones I turned and ran -- back to the Navy, into the Reserves. Surely that would keep me on the straight and narrow -- right? Well, not exactly, but for the most part, yes. I put in another twenty years, finally retiring with the rank of Commander. Coincidentally, that’s when I read the article about Dr. Biber, when everything I’d believed about transition went out the window. The rest may not be quite, as they say, history, but it marked my watershed.
My daughter seems to have finally reconciled somewhat with what I’ve done. Her anger at my having ‘killed’ her daddy no longer bubbles to the surface so readily. She was so young when I started and never really knew Him. But every child wants a mother and a father and she rarely missed an opportunity to remind me what I took from her. That’s the only guilt I feel about any of this. Still, I had to tell her that I get to live my life and she gets to live hers, that no person should have to live his or her one and only life to make any other person happy -- not even their child. By the time she was born I could no longer be the person she wishes I were. I hope that when she grows up she’ll understand.
People tell me how brave I was for having done this. I don’t see it that way. I was a coward for having waited so long. I was too scared of what people would say. All I could see were obstacles. I rationalized that it wasn’t possible, that the surgical techniques were too crude, that I was in the Reserves and I couldn’t do it until I retired, that I didn’t have the money, that I’d lose my practice and what else would I do? I had no support structure; I’d be totally alone. Yet others faced the same obstacles and they did it. What’s my excuse? I had no idea how many others were out there, people just like me, who took charge of their lives and transitioned in the face of obstacles far more daunting than mine. Dr. Ousterhout started doing FFS in 1988 and by then Stanley Biber had almost perfected his SRS technique. I just didn’t know about them until almost a decade later.
I’ve now read hundreds of accounts of people very much like me and so different from the ts women I first knew who lived on the fringe of society. These women lead normal lives, finally at peace for having found the courage to be whom they’d always known they were. Still, I was terrified. I never looked my age so I always thought I had time. Talk about self-deception! All I did was lose time I can never regain. Later in life I married a woman who didn’t buy into my program. It came to me slowly that I had to transition but I agonized for several more years. My father died years ago, then my sister. When my mother died I knew I had to fish or cut bait. If I hadn’t transitioned I might still be still in my marriage but going slowly but surely crazy, if in fact I’d still be alive.
Bottom line: Was it worth it? The price I paid to become Debra was enormous but I can’t imagine any other way. My life isn’t perfect but at least I’m comfortable in my skin now. When I see my reflection in a mirror I experience a serenity I never knew as Him. He was uptight, monotone and monochromatic, always guarding against the possibility that someone might see the joyous female lurking inside. All that unease, that all-pervasive anomie, even when I felt most comfortable in male mode – it exacted a frightful toll. All that’s almost all gone now … vanished. I’m finally free to feel totally alive. Sure, I wish I’d done this when I was twelve. What ts woman doesn’t? A mazingly, it’s starting to happen now. We’re almost at the point where it’s almost commonplace for people to transition in their early twenties and a lucky few in their teens. If only... But I should count my blessings. I never grew taller than 5’7” (I’ve shrunk to 5’6”) and was always very slim. Even so, my male puberty left me with a decidedly male skeletal structure and musculature, not to mention what it did to my voice. But for someone who started transition as late as I did I look good, and I’ve never looked my age. With very rare exceptions, no one knows unless I out myself and amazingly they’re ok with me if not enthusiastic.
Am I a ‘woman’? That’s sure to step on a few semantic toes. Some people will never regard me as anything more than an elaborate poseur. I can’t be bothered with them. I no longer allow anyone to define me but me. I’m sooo comfortable with myself now I don’t know how to describe me as anything but a woman. For sure, I’m not a ‘man’. I could never see myself as such and now know I never was. The closest I ever admitted to being was perhaps a ‘guy’. Think Peter Pan, and then only because I didn’t know what was possible. But it was so different then. The Internet changed everything.
A very wise ts woman I know eschews the verb ‘to be’, preferring to say she “lives a woman’s life”. That’s ok with me. The bottom line is that a woman’s life more readily admits to sweetness and softness, to accommodation rather than confrontation, and is simply far more satisfying ... at least for me. The proof, if anyone needs it, is that people relate to me a lot better as a female than as a male. I think that derives from my liking myself as female. It’s amazing how much mileage you can get with a pretty smile ... and a nice rack.
I’m finally learning I can be comfortable being totally stealth and not feel I’m living a lie. I’m not totally there yet but I that hang-up keeps receding over the horizon. I have guys thirty years my junior checking me out and I’ve disabused myself of the compulsion to out myself to everyone. I choose. I finally got a job – as a lawyer – in an office where people accepted me. (Now if I could only hold one.) Some even liked me, and I was judged on my ability to do the job, which sometimes I really loved. And I have my daughter and hope for an improving relationship. What’s missing? Someone who I love and who loves me, and with whom to grow old. Given what I’ve done so far that shouldn’t be all that difficult, should it? As always, the answer is within me.
Stay tuned ... film at 11:00.
Debra participated as cast member in V-Day in LA in February 2004
She also appears in the documentary “Beautiful Daughters” about that production.