Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Matter of Depth -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 11)

At times in my life I have thought of myself as a deep thinker, but these days all questions of depth apply not to my brain or my thoughts.  Rather, they belong to a completely different and much newer part of my anatomy.  In short, how deep will my vagina be?

Yes, dear readers, it is time for a clinical discussion.  Those who prefer to think deeply about other matters may wish to skip this post, but for many of us, vaginal depth is a question of deep importance.  So let's get to it.

In the standard penile inversion method of vaginoplasty, vaginal depth corresponds directly to the amount of penile material available for inversion.  The stories are legion of MtF transsexuals who wake after surgery to find that their vaginas are of less than desirable depth.  Many surgeons have, therefore, developed their own variations on penile inversion to provide a depth closer to that of women whose vaginas have been with them since birth.

The method developed by Dr. Sanguan makes use of scrotal tissue as a graft to increase vaginal depth.  From his pre-operative examination, Dr. Sanguan predicts I will have a depth in the 5-6 inch range.  He will only know for certain tomorrow, however, when he stretches and inserts the penile and scrotal tissue to create the vaginal lining.  It will likely be the first question I ask when I wake up after surgery.  "How deep am I?"

For those who have been on hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) for an extended period, the amount of penile and scrotal tissue available is sometimes reduced through atrophy.  In those cases, Dr. Sanguan makes use of an additional skin graft from a donor site, that site agreed upon in advance between doctor and patient in the interval between the first and second stages of gender confirmation surgery (GCS).  Dr. Sanguan, OD, and I have all had that discussion, leaving its implementation in the hands of Dr. Sanguan if necessary.  Anyone interested in the full details of Dr. Sanguan's method can find them at http://phuket-plasticsurgery.com/P-PS-grs-procedure.html.

So does anyone of my age, transitioning as I am later in life, really care about vaginal depth?  Given that I feel myself as fifty-something going on twenty-something, I believe the answer is self evident.  Insofar as medical science will allow, I want to be the woman I should have been born as in the first place.

Having delved deeply for a moment, I now resurface to report that OD is resting comfortably as we watch a French comedy dubbed into Russian.  She is bound to the bed for the next three days or until the grafts have taken.  I have walked the hallways as much as possible today in expectation of the same bed rest that awaits me starting tomorrow.  

The most difficult part of recovery is beginning.  My own surgery tomorrow will be the longest yet, as Dr. Rushapol will begin the facial feminization procedures we agreed on after lengthy discussion, photo sessions, and measurements today and yesterday.  I also will learn the answer tomorrow as to how painful facial feminization surgery (FFS) really is.  In months of advance research, I could not get a clear answer.  Some who have been through FFS say it is far more painful than GCS.  Others comment that there was virtually no pain at all.  Still others say that FFS is painful only insofar as it involves soft connective tissue.  More simply, "If it moves, it will hurt."  Fortunately, we are not talking about much in the way of connective tissue, so I am hoping for the lower end of the pain spectrum.  This is also what Dr. Rushapol predicts.

That is where we are on this, our seventh day at the Phuket International Hospital.  OD is drifting in and out of sleep as we watch our French comedy.  Last night I dreamed of being at her wedding.  I have slept beautifully almost every night since we checked into our little room.  Who knows the depth of the dreams that will visit us this night?

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- Collapse of the USSR
Following entry -- We Interrupt this Program

Monday, January 28, 2013

Collapse of the USSR -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 10)

So what do two women of transgender experience share with each other when they are between their various surgical procedures and have already closely examined each other's anatomical changes? Why, the collapse of the Soviet Union, of course!  What else would you expect from OD and me, veterans of Soviet history that we are?  Over two days we have watched the eight part documentary film, Крушение СССР (Collapse of the USSR).  OD has introduced me to a number of Soviet-era films that I had never seen or had seen and forgotten.  Intermixed with Collapse we have watched Афоня (Afonya), Безыменная звезда (Star Without a Name), and Не может быть (Impossible).  I was surprised to find that OD had never seen the classic film Покаяние (Repentence) from Gorbachev's years of perestroika.  We've watched a good Russian-dubbed version of PS -- I Love You, and I have Питер-FM (Peter-FM) waiting in the wings.

Collapse of the USSR
We are both in excellent moods today.  OD's post-operation fever is gone, and we have both had our vaginal packings replaced.  We've been walking up and down the hallway as much as the nurses will allow us.  The binding around my breasts has been removed, and I am able to stand and admire my C cup figure.

I met my craniofacial surgeon Dr. Rushapol Sdawat today.    I showed him photos of my sisters and said that my one requirement was that we still look like sisters when he finishes.  We agreed that "less is more" and that most of what he will do will be around my eyes.  As it is, I have always had one eye that is more closed, appearing more "drooped" than the other.  He will do most of his magic in parallel with the second stage of Dr. Sanguan's GCS on Thursday.

We also met our neighbors, a young Russian couple from Moscow who had come to Phuket for their honeymoon.  On the second day here, the young bride had the misfortune of being hit by a truck.  She has been in the hospital for ten days now with broken ribs and lacerations while her husband goes out and forages for familiar Russian foods and ointments.  We only met our young neighbors today when one of the nurses came and asked if we could be interpreters for the doctor.  Our young friends speak no English, and I can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for them to come here for a honeymoon that ended up being spent in the hospital.  Fortunately, the young bride is now recovered enough to travel, and they will return to Moscow in two days.

I sat talking with our young Russian friend for an hour or so at one point while her husband was taking care of insurance matters.  We talked about this, that, and everything, in particular about how much care her husband had been taking of her.  She asked me to show off my new breasts.  At one point she asked if I had seen any of the ladyboys in Phuket.  She said she had been surprised to see a group of them on her first evening here.  She wasn't so much shocked as she was curious.  She asked, "What must it be like for them?"  Knowing that my young friend was sitting in some degree of pain with broken ribs, I thought this not the best time to begin an educational lecture, let alone enlighten her about yours truly.  I just smiled and commented that it was wonderful to see how accepting the Thai people are of differences.  My young friend nodded in agreement.  Shortly thereafter her husband returned.  We all hugged and said our goodbyes.

It is now 10pm.  OD goes for her second stage GCS tomorrow.  Meanwhile, it is time to choose another Russian language movie to close out the evening.  Although we have both seen it more times than either of us can remember, perhaps Ирония судьбы (The Irony of Fate) would be the right choice.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- Simple Gifts
Following entry -- A Matter of Depth

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Simple Gifts -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 9)

I received an unexpected surprise yesterday.  No sooner had I finished writing then there was a knock at the door.  In walked one of our nurses together with a delivery boy carrying a beautiful planter of flowers to brighten our day and our recovery.  It had been sent by my friends at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.  I was taken by surprise but should not have been.  Our family of Foreign Service Officers in Bucharest really does feel like a family, and this is not the first time that I have been delighted and impressed by the kindness and acceptance shown to me.  It began the day I first told Kyna of my intent to transition gender over two years ago and has continued ever since.  I owe so much to so many friends in Bucharest.

OD had a difficult time yesterday, and having the flowers in our room brightened her day as much as it did mine.  OD has run a temperature of over 38C almost every day since her surgery last week.  By the end of yesterday, it had reached 38.9C.  She had no energy and felt that her entire body was aching.  I was alarmed enough that I insisted on speaking with Dr. Sanguan by telephone.  Although he had been aware of OD's fever even earlier, I was very happy to see that he asked one of the doctors on duty to come immediately to our room and examine OD closely.  He ordered a stronger antibiotic and gave other medications and orders to break the fever.  Thank goodness, OD's temperature was normal this morning, and she looks and sounds entirely different.  As I write, she is blow drying her hair with a fan loaned to us by one of the nurses.

My day yesterday was spent in enjoying the freedom of the hallway as much as the nurses would permit.  The rest of the time, OD and I watched Russian language films and documentaries.  Even still covered as I am with bandages and tubes, the joy of sensing that there is no longer an unwanted bulge between my legs is beyond words.

OD had her vaginal packing replaced yesterday, and I follow suit today in about four hours from now.  Dr. Sanguan's method of performing vaginoplasty is different from that of almost all other surgeons in that it is a multi-step procedure.  The replacement of the vaginal packing is the halfway point.  Come Tuesday, Dr. Sanguan will remove OD's packing entirely and put her vaginal lining in place.  My turn will come the next day.  Although this method entails a longer hospital stay, I like the slow approach that allows for discussion, modifications, and adjustments along the way.  For example, after step one of creating the vaginal cavity, Dr. Sanguan preserves the penile and scrotal tissue that will become the vaginal lining.  He is able to remove any remaining hairs in the interim and assess just what will be the vaginal depth.  If necessary, there is time to think calmly about a skin graft, usually from the leg, to have greater depth.  How much better that is than to go through a single-step procedure only to wake up and find that one's depth is woefully insufficient.

Thank you, everyone, for the wonderful comments and for the continuing stream of congratulatory letters and notes on Facebook.  I sit in my bed and look at the lovely flowers and think of the simple gifts that continue to brighten our recovery this day.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- All in the Zadnitsa
Following entry -- Collapse of the USSR

Saturday, January 26, 2013

All in the Zadnitsa -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 8)

I've been thinking quite a bit about my zadnitsa over the past day.  As time goes on, I am thinking about it more and more.  Why?  Because it aches, that's why!  All my Russian speaking friends are already smiling, but for those unenlightened in the poetic language of Pushkin, zadnitsa is a reasonably polite form of the word for rear end.

I hereby affirm what I have heard from others.  The most difficult part of recovering from GCS/SRS is the tedium and enforced bed rest.  How many DVDs can one watch?  How much reading can one do when one is squirming around in bed trying to find a comfortable position?  OD, lucky girl, is able to lie on her stomach, but since I had breast augmentation in addition to GCS, I'm limited to 180 degrees of rotation. I'm pretty much flat on my back with my freedom of motion limited to rolling onto one side or the other.  Even that I need to do carefully, as the process of rolling tends to tug painfully at the stitches under my breasts.  Thus I spend most of my time on my back, causing my zadnitsa to exclaim, "Good grief, woman, when are you going to get out of this bed?"

Fortunately, this afternoon I will be permitted to take my first short walk.  OD, one day ahead of me on this schedule, had hers yesterday.  Once I am on my feet, I plan to stay on them as long as the nursing staff will permit me to do so.  I don't think I will go as far as a friend who, in similar circumstances, walked right past all the nurses and crossed the street to do some shopping, but the thought is rather tempting.

Despite the pain in the zadnitsa, I am in good humor.  I am off the IV pain medication and at this point don't experience any post-GCS pain at all.  The pain around the breasts has also almost completely disappeared, only manifesting itself when I role too quickly from one side to the other.  Overall, the pain has been much less than I expected . . . except of course in the zadnitsa.

A humorous aspect of being restricted to bed rest is our complete dependence on the nursing staff.  As I've mentioned earlier, the junior staff -- i.e., those whom we see most -- have only a theoretical knowledge of English.  I've suggested to OD that she organize English classes for them, as I think she knows English better than they do.  For some inexplicable linguistic reason, they have the greatest problem with two words:  juice and tea.  It seems that with every meal we order, the kitchen staff fails to bring either the juice or tea or both.  We then have to wait another hour for them to return to the kitchen to search out these exotic beverages.

* * * * * * * * * *

My zadnitsa rejoices. I had just written the previous paragraph when the nursing staff told me it was time to get up and walk.  I took them fully at their word, walking slowly up and down the corridor for an hour, asking the nurses to pose with me for a photo.  Despite the linguistic problems, they work hard for our comfort

I'm back in bed again, but now that I have license, I will get up every few hours for a short walk.  OD is about to go back to the operating room to have her vaginal packing removed and replaced.  Once again, I will follow in her footsteps tomorrow.

That's the news up to the moment.  If the greatest pain I have experienced has been in the zadnitsa, that says something about the quality of the surgery and after-care.  Now that my zadnitsa is smiling, so are my lips and eyes.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- Like a Natural Woman
Following entry -- Simple Gifts

Friday, January 25, 2013

Like a Natural Woman -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 7)

Please forgive me if I am short today and write with many typos.  I'm in bed and can't quite see the keyboard.  I'm typing by feel.

I went into surgery yesterday at 9am.  I wasn't back in the room that OD and I are sharing until around 8pm.  I had breast augmentation (BA) in addition to gender confirmation surgery (GCS), so that might explain why I was in surgery so long.  OD was back in our room by 4pm after her SRS-only surgery the previous day.
Phuket International Hospital

I'm in no real pain at the moment, as I am still getting pain medication intravenously.  That will end sometime today, and then I will be on pills only.  I know from OD that she was in pain for the first hours after her intravenous ended, but this morning she says she is much better.  I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be in the same room and support each other.

In Dr. Sanguan's method, I will be back in surgery on Sunday for him to replace the packing in my vagina.  I will be in surgery yet again next week (Tuesday) for him to remove the packing and insert the vaginal lining.  Then I will be able to start dilating, the wonderful do-it-yourself experience -- yes, I am being ironic -- that all post-ops must go through multiple times each day for many months to come.

I will meet with the facial surgeon Dr. Rushapol over the next few days for us to decide how much facial feminization surgery (FFS) is advisable.  If we do anything, it will be after my final surgery with Dr. Sanguan.  The question, of course, is how much the two doctors think is reasonable and how much pain I can stand in a single month.

I am about to have my first real meal in two days.  OD will be able to get out of bed today and take a short walk up and down the hallway.  I will be fixed to the bed, reading, listening to music and watching movies.

How do I feel?  The answer is simple.  I feel wonderful!  In the words of Carole King, thanks to Dr. Sanguan and the staff of the Phuket International Hospital, I feel just like a natural woman.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- Fates that Intertwine
Following entry -- All in the Zadnitsa

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fates that Intertwine -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 6)

It is 7:30am, and I sit watching OD doze as the sounds around us tell me that the hospital is waking up.  A nurse or assistant should appear any moment at our door.  This is the morning of OD's surgery.

Dr. Sanguan Kunaporn came shortly after I finished writing my last entry.  He is every bit as gentle and understanding as I had read in the accounts of others.  His first words to OD were, "You are so beautiful."  With me as interpreter, he and OD discussed her surgery and various options that he suggested for her consideration.  He was with us for 30-45 minutes.

The Thai psychiatrist came next, a woman one year younger than OD.  For another half hour or so, I served as interpreter as OD told her life story.  I was surprised at the depth of the psychiatrist's questions.  She may only serve to put her seal on the recommendation for surgery that OD brought with her from Moldova, but it was clear she takes her work seriously.

After that I left the hospital for the first fast food dinner I have had in more months than I can remember.  I returned to find that Skype had become the order of the evening, as OD called her mother and her boyfriend multiple times.  By then I had finished connecting our little portable DVD player to the flat panel TV in this room that has become our little home.  We finished the evening by watching old Soviet comedies.  I fell asleep on the couch about halfway through Афоня (Afonya) sometime after midnight. . . .

The nurse just came by to say that she will connect OD's intravenous in a few minutes.

We may have been overwhelmed by the mechanics of checking into the hospital yesterday, but today will be different.  As OD goes for surgery, I will begin my own check-in, following in OD's path.  There should be no surprises.  I have OD's experience as a guide.

With the mechanics of the first day now understood and even as the exhaustion of a short night washes over me, I do feel the emotional memories gathering.  I remember my childhood dream, the unspoken nightly prayers to wake up as someone different, the pain of realizing by age 13 that they were just that, dreams and prayers that would not be fulfilled.  Then there was Conundrum.  How vividly I remember reading it cover-to-cover in a single sitting in the University of Virginia's Alderman Library in 1975, stunned and amazed to find that there was a way to make those dreams and prayers come true . . . if only I had the courage.  It only took another 35 years to find that courage.

I now know what Jan Morris may have felt when she went to Morocco to one of the few doctors who performed sexual reassignment surgery, as it was still usually called in those years.  I look at OD.  I look at myself.  Our paths have brought us to Phuket just as certainly as Jan Morris' took her to Morocco.

I have written of this before, but I am again struck how OD's and my paths have intertwined.  I have been a student of Russian language and of Russian and Soviet history since a young age.  It was a love I threw myself into with a passion, consciously saying to myself that it was something I could have, a socially acceptable release from the knowledge that I could never speak of what I really wanted, let alone have it.  I studied, I published, I floated in the joy of its literature and of my own increasing ability to speak and understand this language from a culture and reality so different and yet so like my own.

When the red Soviet flag came down over the Kremlin on December 31, 1991, it ended the Cold War with a finality I thought I would never during my life.  As the rest of the world rejoiced, however, a young woman from the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic grieved.  Age 20, OD had gone through all the psychiatric boards of the Soviet medical system and had been approved for reassignment surgery in early 1992.  When she appeared at the hospital for check-in, she was told, "Go home, you are no longer a citizen of this country."  It nearly destroyed OD.

Like many of us who have survived, OD resurfaced months later, accepting the knowledge that surgery, so nearly within her grasp, was now an impossible dream.  She returned to the university, earned her degree, and became a respected teacher of Romanian language and literature at one of Moldova's best high schools.  

Only in 2001 did she decide that the time had come to try again.  Surgery was still out of the question, and there were no endocrinologists in Moldova who would help her.  She did it by herself, studying the medical literature and beginning hormone therapy on her own.  She was fired from her teaching position when the physical changes began to manifest themselves, this in spite of support from loving students and parents.  In 2008 OD became the first transgender person in Moldova who successfully sued for a change in her identity documents.  She has continued fighting for others ever since.  With an accepting and loving mother and an adoring boyfriend, she had achieved the impossible . . . except for surgery.

It must have been fate that brought us together in March 2011 in the city of Brasov, the location of the first-ever self-styled Romanian "transgender congress."  I was taking the first steps on my fourth lifetime attempt to set out on the transition road, all but certain that the likely outcome would be dismissal and unemployment.  I didn't yet know how much things had changed for transgender rights in only the preceding few years.  If I had not gone to Brasov on that wintry March day or if OD had stayed home in Moldova, we would never have met.

OD and I soon became fast friends.  As the months went on and as I found that not only would I not be dismissed but, rather, would finally live to see the day I thought could never happen, OD was more and more on her mind.  A student of Soviet history who had spent so many years researching the fate of repressed Soviet people, I came to see OD not just as a friend but as the last chapter in my personal Cold War.  I was powerless in the 1980s and 1990s to do anything other than research and publish, but in OD I had before me a human being who was herself a casualty of the Soviet system and its collapse.  I had it in my power to do something tangible, to right a wrong.  I knew I could not go to Thailand without her.

Once again to all who answered my call and donated sums big and small, you have my own undying thanks.  You need only to see the photos of OD here to know and feel how happy she is.  You have touched and helped change a life.  OD will never forget you.

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It is now nearly noon.  At 9am I walked with OD to the outer door of the operating theater, stroking her arm and speaking soothing words.  There will be at least another two hours to go in her operation followed by time in recovery.  I don't expect to see her back in our room until 4-6pm.

I have also done my own check-in, had my X-ray, and ordered what will be my last normal lunch for many days to come.  Two hours from now I will take the same laxative that OD took yesterday, and I already know what to expect from that point onward.  Excuse me as I draw inwards and my writing becomes sparse.  Just know that I am happier than words can describe.  I will see you again on the other side.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- OD Checks In; Robyn Checks Out
Following entry -- Like a Natural Woman

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

OD Checks In; Robyn Checks Out -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 5)

Today was moving day. After staying up much too late to watch the U.S. presidential inauguration last night – President Obama was sworn in at midnight Thai time – we found ourselves turning off the lights at nearly 1am. With the alarm set for 7:30am, we woke up on our own at 7:00. Can you blame us for such a short night's sleep? We knew this would be just the first of many big days to come, and the excitement is again overpowering.
At PIAC Reception with Traces of Yesterday's Sunburn

We ate a quick breakfast and then returned to our room to collect OD's suitcase. The phone rang just before 9:30am. It was Saroj, a taxi driver and sometime tour operator who has been with Dr. Kunaporn and the Phuket International Aesthetic Institute (PIAC) for twenty years. He delivered us in comfort to the Phuket International Hospital some thirty minutes later. Both OD and I filled out admission papers at the reception desk, although in fact it is only OD who was being admitted. Today is her check-in day. I will follow her tomorrow.

From the reception desk we were taken to the office of PIAC itself, where OD signed more papers and received the hospital bracelet that she will wear for the duration of her stay. A chest X-ray followed, and then it was on to OD's room. Although we had eaten only four hours earlier, we found ourselves eating lunch just after noon. Surprisingly, we were both hungry. For OD, this will be the last solid meal for some time.

If there has been any problem today, it has been in communicating with the nurse assistants. Although I had been warned by others who have come to Thailand, it was still an eye-opener to realize that staff at this level has only a theoretical knowledge of English. After a short time, however, we came to recognize that the senior and registered nurses wear a different uniform and a nurse's cap. Their English is good, and we now know to refer all questions to them, reserving smiles and gestures for the junior staff.

Once we understood with whom we can and with whom we cannot communicate, I asked the most important question of the afternoon. That question was, simply, would I be able to spend the night with OD? The answer was "of course!" and so I phoned Saroj, who picked me up at 3pm, taking me back to our hotel so that I could check out and retrieve my own suitcases.

By 5pm I was back in the room with OD. By then she had been given a laxative followed by two one-liter bottles of water. OD says that in quick order she lost everything she has eaten since our departure from Bucharest. Her dinner at 6pm was little more than soup broth. From midnight onward, she will not drink or eat anything at all.

The day is not over. At 7pm OD will have her consultation with Dr. Kunaporn, who will give her a physical exam and set the schedule for her surgery tomorrow. A Thai psychiatrist will also visit OD to give his blessing. Both in the US and Thailand, two letters of recommendation are required for surgery in accordance with the standards of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, In Thailand, however, one of the two recommendations must come from a Thai psychiatrist.

That has been our day so far. Robyn has checked out, and OD has checked in. The preliminaries have begun for OD, and Robyn will follow suit tomorrow.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- Our Day at the Beach
Following entry -- Fates that Intertwine

Monday, January 21, 2013

Our Day at the Beach -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 4)

It is evening in Phuket after one of the most restful, relaxing days that either OD or I has had in many months.  If the view of the water and the sound of the surf are not enough to melt away the tension in even the most tightly wound person, I don't know what is.

After a late breakfast, we climbed down the path leading from the Aspasia Resort to the water.  This is Kata Beach, one of Phuket's three main beach towns, but everything about it is quiet and peaceful.  For anyone familiar with the Delmarva Peninsula in the US, let's say this is Bethany Beach, not Ocean City.

I had not been to the beach since 2005, and OD had not been since 2001.  We both melted away in the warm (not hot!) glow of the sun as we walked in the sand.  Then we took turns in the water.  Kata Beach is more of a bay than a beach that bears the full brunt of an ocean.  The waves are small, and the water is the temperature of a cool but refreshing bath.  One can walk a far distance from shore before the water is over one's head, and even there the water is such a clear azure blue that one can see one's feet on the bottom.  After one turn in the water, we each took another.  It was only the thought that we had forgotten to bring sun block cream with us that drove us back into the shade.  Even so, we both have pink shoulders as a souvenir of our hour in the sun.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on the balcony, reading, looking at the water, and dreamily floating in a state of holiday rest.  OD, hard worker that she is, had brought translation work with her and used much of the afternoon for that.  Then it was a short walk into town for dinner at a small Thai restaurant with wonderful seafood.  While there, we came to realize that one of our waitresses is herself transgender.  It was not her face that gave her away but her voice.  We wondered aloud and not for the first time why it is that many transgender women are content to leave their voices as they were when in fact it is entirely possible to retrain even a low, monotone male voice into something that approaches being acceptably female.  (See Voice:  The Acid Test.)

It is now 9pm.  Tomorrow we travel to Phuket for our consultation with Dr. Kunaporn.  Our day at the beach is coming to its end, but before it does, I plan on sitting again on the balcony, listening to the surf, and simply melting away into the night.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- The Journey Begins
Following entry --  OD Checks In; Robyn Checks Out

The Journey Begins -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 3)

If you were looking to this post in search of elegant writing, I hereby warn that no elegance is to be found here or in the next many to come.  Not that elegance is to be found in earlier postings either, but I consider today's post and those that will come in the following days to be more quick postcards or news updates for friends and family.  The reason for this change in style is very simple.

We are in Thailand!

My Last Bike Ride . . . for Now
Yes, we have arrived!  It is Monday morning, and OD still sleeps as I write in the living room area of our accommodations at the Aspasia Resort in Phuket, Thailand.  I slept nine hours, and it is no wonder that OD is still sleeping.  She caught a 7:30am flight on Saturday morning from Chisinau to Bucharest and waited for me in the terminal.  I, meanwhile, was taking one last bike ride on the rollers, taking a shower, and having a leisurely breakfast at home.  (I wonder how long it will be before I ride a bicycle again?)  My taxi arrived at 10:45am, and I was at the airport in less than twenty minutes.  (Try that on a weekday morning in Bucharest!)  I found OD in a coffee shop with our friends Lolo and Alexandra, who had decided to surprise OD and keep her company until I arrived.  After another round of juice, tea, and coffee, we bid them goodbye and headed for the joys of security and passport control.

Our KLM flight to Amsterdam left at 1:55pm, arriving there in a bit less than three hours.  After that it was another hour and a half before our flight to Bangkok.

When we boarded the flight to Thailand, I had a surprise in store for OD:  I had purchased business class.  Knowing what it is like to sit in economy for 3-4 international flights and having read the accounts of others of what the long post-op journey home can be like, I had long ago decided that we needed business class.  Thanks to so many supporters of my appeal to help finance OD's surgery -- and thanks to one supporter in particular -- we could afford it.  I just hadn't told OD.  I took some delight in steering her towards the business class compartment.  It certainly made all the difference in letting us fly the longest leg of our trip in some comfort.

Then it was Bangkok and the long hike from one end of the airport to the other to make our connection to Phuket, where we arrived a little after 2pm local time.  We were met by a van from the Phuket International Aesthetic Center (PIAC), which drove us to the Aspasia.  We were finally opening suitcases and taking showers sometime after 3.

Did we run straight for the beach?  No, business class aside, we were exhausted.  I had been on the road for nearly 24 hours, and OD had been on her way for over 30.  Moreover, neither of us had slept much in the preceding nights due to last minute preparations and excitement.  On Wednesday of last week, I had had to contend with a mild case of food poisoning that did not exactly add to my energy level. 

View from our Balcony
After showers, OD and I sat on the balcony and watched as the sun set.  Our dinner was the complimentary fruit bowl and some crackers and nuts from the mini-bar.  OD still had some cheese from Moldova.  We talked until neither of us could keep our eyes open any longer.  I slept nine hours, waking just after the sun had come up.  As I write, I think I hear OD beginning to stir.

This is our rest day.  Today we will take that walk on the beach and explore the area.  Tomorrow we will be off to Phuket City, where OD will be admitted to the Phuket International Hospital.  Her surgery is scheduled for Wednesday, and I will follow a day later on Thursday.

That, dear friends, is the news up to the moment.  OD and I have arrived in Thailand.  The journey has begun.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- So You Want to Be in Pictures?
Following entry -- Our Day at the Beach

Friday, January 11, 2013

So You Want to Be in Pictures? -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 2)

"Pictures?  Does this mean that yours truly, only a week away from flying to Thailand for gender confirmation surgery, is about to give us a review of holiday season movies?"

Well, not quite, although I did like Argo and Anna Karenina but would suggest steering clear of The Hobbit unless you enjoy seeing the fantasy of your mind’s eye blown out of proportion on a 3D screen.

Going to the movies has been a fun way to spend the quiet days of the holiday season.  The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest followed the Romanian holidays, giving us all but Thursday and Friday of Christmas week as days off.  The same was true of New Year’s week.  It felt as though we had been given a two week vacation.  Much of the time I kept my eye on the calendar, counting down the days until OD and I fly to Thailand on January 19.
Rupert Minds the Bicycles
The holiday was not entirely a movie-going experience.  On New Year’s Eve, Rupert took me on a bicycle excursion to a part of Bucharest I would never have discovered on my own.  After making our way down icy dirt roads between abandoned factories in a wasteland landscape, we came to a ruined eighteenth century cathedral that had been burned by the Ottomans but that continued to stand through the centuries.  With walls that look more than five feet thick, it’s no wonder that the structure withstood wars and Communism.  Today there is a steel fence around it to protect it from the curious, but Rupert says there was not even that when he first came upon the cathedral many months ago.  It was somehow a comfort on New Year’s Eve to stand before a monument that had withstood the test of time.

New Year’s Eve was a repeat of my Thanksgiving open house.   Guests began arriving at 9pm, numbering 25 or more in the end.   The stereo volume went up and the bottles were opened.  I set up the telescope outdoors for anyone who wanted to look at the Moon or Jupiter.  At midnight we all went outside to pop the champagne corks and hug each other as the Bucharest sky burst forth in a blaze of fireworks.  What a contrast it was to my lonely New Year’s Eve of two years ago when I stood at the threshold of full transition.   (See The Education of a Transgender Rip Van Winkle.)  Only at 4am did the party start to ebb, a few friends staying to watch movies.  I left them on the couch sometime after 5am.  When I woke up hours later, I was delighted to see that those who had stayed had already done much to clear up the evidence of an all-night party.

Movies and pictures were a part of my holidays in another way.   Just before Christmas I received a DVD that took me by surprise.  I had nearly forgotten that in 2007 I had been discovered by a small film crew that wanted to make a documentary based on the research that Alina Eremeeva and I had done on the 1936-37 purge of astronomers in the Soviet Union.  (See My Great Purge.)  No, it wasn’t National Geographic or the Museum of Natural History that had come knocking at our door.  The group that had discovered us came from an institution I had never heard of before, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in California.  I was somewhat nervous as I put the DVD in the player, wondering what a movie produced by a museum specializing in Jurassic technology might look like.   Indeed, the hour-long documentary is stylized, but factually it follows Alina’s and my published works closely.  The filmmakers had traveled widely, filming on-site at Pulkovo Observatory, in St. Petersburg, and in Uzbekistan.  Once I saw that the facts had been preserved, I sat back and began to enjoy the stylized and somber presentation that includes poetry appropriate to the tragedy that befell Soviet astronomy in the 1930s.   (The film is called The Great Soviet Eclipse.  You can find a short on-line excerpt here.)

Alina’s and my research was the star of this documentary, but I also now find myself at the center of a film on transgender issues that the young Bucharest filmmaker Alexandra Carastoian is making.  Alexandra is associated with the Romanian LGBT rights organization ACCEPT, and she has made a number of short films for ACCEPT.  She first approached me about her idea for a film over a year ago, but it took six months before my involvement was approved through the appropriate channels both at our Embassy and in Washington.  Since then Alexandra has come periodically to film an interview with me as well as some candid day-to-day scenes from my life.  Her latest film session was last Saturday, and it turned into a mini-party as we began with breakfast, moved to filming, and then continued with dinner.  OD had come from Moldova and also became a part of the film.

Alexandra says her favorite part of making a film comes in the cutting room as she puts it all together.  I have full trust in Alexandra who by now has also become a good friend, but I am sure that it will be with some nervousness that I view the finished product for the first time.  It was one thing to see a DVD based on my research.  What will it be like to see a film in which it is not my research but the living me who is on the screen?  

Now we come to the movie that is my life.  I’m sure a few readers have struggled through the paragraphs above, wondering when I would finally get to what has been happening day-to-day as the Thailand clock counts down.

The nuts and bolts are that all monies have been transferred to the Phuket International Hospital.  OD spent several days with me last week in order to go to the Thai Embassy to apply for her visa.   There is no embassy in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, so anyone from Moldova who wishes to go to Thailand must come to Bucharest for a visa.  Our surgeon, Dr. Sanguan Kunaporn, has received and approved the letters that OD’s and my counselors wrote as justification for our surgeries.

Over a week ago, as required by Dr. Kunaporn, I ceased taking my daily dosage of estradiol as well as aspirin and vitamin supplements.   Dr. Kunaporn allows his patients to continue on anti-androgen medication right up until surgery, so at least I am not experiencing any sudden testosterone explosion.  I do, however, feel the decrease in estrogen level.   I feel more on edge, quicker to react to anything that is not going according to plan. Insomnia of the wake-in-the-middle-of-the-night variety has returned, encouraged by the anti-androgen-induced bathroom trips together with my increased excitement as the imminence of my journey to Thailand becomes ever more palpable.

What are my greatest worries today?  At the top of my list is getting sick.  Coming down with a cold or flu over the coming week would be the greatest catastrophe I can think of.  Fortunately, I was dragged down for days by a severe cold in the first half of December, and I hope that has given me some immunity that will last me through the week to come.

Almost there.  The journey to Thailand may just be an exclamation point in this life journey, but it is the answer to my childhood dream and prayer.  In the evenings I am rediscovering old episodes of the Twilight Zone that I first saw as a child in the 1960s, remembering the promise of a mysterious magic that might transform my life before I woke the next morning.  That morning finally comes in little over a week.  It is not the Twilight Zone with Rod Serling standing off camera.  Instead, it is the reality of a life transformed through hard work, suffering experienced and suffering caused, and the love of friends and family, a drama that Rod Serling himself could not have conceived of.

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The link below is to Alexandra Carastoian's short film Vreau sa stiu cum e that she made for Pride Month 2012.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:
Previous entry -- My White Romanian Christmas 
Following entry --  The Journey Begins