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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