Monday, December 24, 2012

My White Romanian Christmas -- or -- The Exclamation Point (Part 1)

Winter came early to Bucharest this year.  The first snow fell over two weeks ago.  I stayed off the bicycle for one day and then another, thinking it would melt, but within a week I had removed the panniers and set up my bicycle rollers in the hallway.  I am a bus commuter again, the snow and ice clearly here to stay.

There is a wondrous beauty to Bucharest and its parks in the winter.  Snow sticks to the trees and branches, and the Christmas lights of the city shine all through the center.  My young friend Oana and I took a long walk last night from Victoria Square to Unirii Square just to see the lights and here the Christmas sounds.  A large outdoor Christmas market is set up at University Square, where the night was bright and warm with holiday sounds and smells.

This is my third Christmas in Bucharest.  Two years ago it was a warm December, but inside it was cold as I spent my holiday weeks deeply enmeshed in post-divorce litigation.  Last year was cold but snowless as I glowed in the warmth of my first post-transition Christmas.  I wrote then of the joy of receiving new passports and other documents in my new name and gender and of other firsts in my new life.  For this, my third Christmas, I have it all.  The winter beauty of cold and snow surround me, and I live in the warm certainty that my life now is simply my life, transformed as I had always wanted.  More than anything, I am warmed by the feeling of family surrounding me.  I spoke yesterday for nearly an hour with my son in the US, and tomorrow I will talk with my sisters, nephews, and nieces as they gather around their tree.  In Bucharest I have yet another family that has embraced me.

I am choosing to make this a quiet holiday.  After a ten-hour party for Thanksgiving, I am expecting just a few close friends for Christmas.  (To anyone who is reading this and is in the neighborhood, please do drop by!)  I'm still doing all the holiday baking, but most will go to these same friends and others.  The Embassy is closed for a full five days for Christmas.  Then we reopen for a two day break from the holiday, after which we close for another five days.  Twelve days with only two days of work feels more like a vacation than a holiday, and I will use it to rest to the full.

This is the quiet first posting in a new mini-saga.  Less than four weeks from now, on January 19, OD and I will fly to Phuket, Thailand, for our GCS/SRS surgeries.  When did I enter countdown mode?  In some sense I've been there ever since I made the decision last August to go with Dr. Kunaporn in Phuket.  I entered the final count for real sometime after Thanksgiving when I began to realize that with the long holiday coming soon, I needed to begin winding down a number of work projects, either completing them or getting them to a state where they could safely be put on hold for a month or more.  When the Embassy reopens after the New Year, I know that OD and I will be in a whirlwind of final activity.  We will be in much of it together, as OD will be coming to Bucharest to apply for her visa, something she can not do in Moldova where there is no Thai Embassy.

Why The Exclamation Point?  It is my response to those who marvel at the immensity of this impending surgical step.  I have heard a few comments such as, "Well, I only hope you will have no regrets."  Just from the questions, their tone, and the expressions on well-intentioned faces, it is clear that my well-wishers have never had a transgender feeling or thought in their lives.  Rather than a life-altering event of immense magnitude, I look at gender confirmation surgery (GCS), Spa therapy if you will, as the exclamation point that comes at the end of a very long sentence, a process that has been my life.  The immense life-altering event took place over a year ago on November 10, 2011, with the public announcement of my transition and the full-time beginning of my new life.  GCS is just the exclamation point.

So why GCS at all?  Indeed, many transgender persons never have GCS.  For those who are transitioning FtM, the reason often is the technical one that phalloplasty is not perfected and can cost up to a year's U.S. salary or more for a very imperfect result.  Cost also is often a factor for those who, like me, are transitioning MtF.  If not for those many people who responded to my appeal, GCS would have remained an impossible dream for OD.  Thank you to all who responded and, together, covered nearly the full cost of OD's journey of a lifetime.

For those who can afford GCS but choose not to have it, the reasons are varied.  At its core the explanation for many is one I agree with entirely.  This road is a question of gender, not sex or sexual orientation.  It is a matter of the heart and head that has nothing to do with what is between a person's legs.  It is a matter of who one wakes up as in the morning and how one is perceived by the largely binary gender world that surrounds us.

For me, however, GCS has been a dream ever since my youngest years when I would try to make my penis disappear between my legs, when I would go to bed at night with a silent prayer that it be gone when I woke in the morning.  I never wanted it and never enjoyed using it sexually even as I must acknowledge that without it I could never have experienced the life joy of being a parent.  In the end I found this organ to have only one positive virtue:  it allowed me greater ease on hiking and camping trips, particularly in cold weather.

GCS will also open up doors to new possibilities.  How real my chances are I don't know, but as the reality of GCS approaches, the thought of discovering sex for the first time in my life, sex as I always wanted it but could never have it, has taken form.  In dreams and in my gaze as I look at friends, I find myself wondering, "What will it be like?"

Those are the joys and dreams of this Christmas as I prepare to return to my holiday baking.  The tree is up in the living room with gifts surrounding it from and for my extended family of loved ones and friends.  It is again a very, very Merry Christmas in Bucharest.  To my family and friends and to all who have found their way to these notes, may your Christmas be a merry as mine, full of warmth, love, and happiness.

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Follow these links for more of The Exclamation Point:

Following entry --
  So You Want to Be in Pictures?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hamlet and Healing

The time is out of joint:  O cursed spite,
That I was ever born to set it right.

Every year at about this time I like to watch the Kenneth Branagh film version of Hamlet.  I don't remember quite when this tradition started, but for at least five years now I do find myself watching the story of the handsome but troubled prince who, knowing what he needs to do, hesitates.  Through those hesitations, questionings, and self-recriminations, eight people including Hamlet himself end up dead on stage.  Make that nine if we count Hamlet's father.

My ex-spouse and I shared a love of the theater, and more than all others we loved the Washington Shakespeare Theatre.  It all started in the 1990s when we went to one of the free performances the theater company would put on each summer in Rock Creek Park's Carter Barron Amphitheatre.  The first free performance we saw was Measure for Measure in 1996, and we were back the next year for Henry V.  In the winter of 1999-2000, I bought tickets for the two of us and our son to see the Shakespeare Theatre's production of Corolianus.  We sat in the orchestra section, and I remember how our son, then age 11, jumped with the first on-stage explosion.  I don't know if he understood the play at that age, but he was hooked by the theater experience.  The next year I bought a subscription for the three of us, and one of the highlights of our troubled lives was to drop everything for our Saturday matinee performances.  We had a box seat that we began to think of as our own property.  We would enter our box, arrange our coats and bags in whatever way we wished, and wait to be enthralled.  I watched as our son came to love Shakespeare by seeing the plays where they were intended to be seen, on the stage, not as words on a page in a high school English class.  

All of that is in the past, but I know my ex-spouse and son continue to share that love for the Washington Shakespeare Theatre.  I think they may still have subscription tickets to this day.

I have written very little about my ex-spouse in this journal out of respect for her privacy and also in the knowledge that her thoughts towards me may not be kind.  I can not really blame her for that.  Like it or not, I was the one who deceived by marrying her in 1982 without a word about my troubled inner thoughts and feelings.  I can explain to no end why it would have taken a much stronger person than me to say those words aloud in 1982, but that does not change the fact.  When she learned the truth in 1990, she was devastated.  In long, drawn-out scenes of explanation and recrimination both in 1990 and again in 2000-02, I ended by promising to bottle up whatever was inside me and, as best I could, make it go away.  

When I finally put divorce on the table in 2007, I don't think my spouse believed it at first.  After 25 years of giving in, it seemed unlikely that I would be able to see myself through to the other side of a divorce.  When it finally dawned on my spouse that I might finally have gathered the strength to do just than, I believe her disbelief was replaced by anger.  How else can one explain divorce and post-divorce litigation that cost me a year's salary in fees to my attorney alone?  Given that our son was already in the university, this should have been an easy negotiation, but instead we ended up with expensive attorneys who were the only financial winners in the process.  I no longer have any home other than a tumble-down cabin in Maine, and the most of my life savings are gone.  I have no clear idea how I will live when mandatory retirement comes knocking on my door in 2019.  Although my ex-spouse fared better in the financial and property settlements, I cannot imagine that her situation is an enviable one.

There is something very Shakespearean about our marriage and divorce.  I look back and clearly see the Hamlet syndrome at work in me.  I knew in 1982 that marriage had not "cured" me, but it took me until 1990 to say anything outside the depths of my own soul.  Even then I was easily talked back into a closet, and much of the talk that put me there was my own.  

"The time is out of joint:  O cursed spite, that I was ever born to set it right."  How apt those words are for many of us who come face to face with the question of gender transition.  We know the truth about ourselves, but we know that others will think us mad if we act.  In our dark moments, we are inclined to agree with them.

It took more than five decades for me to get there, but I am now happily on the other side of the transition question.  Any anger that I felt from 2007 through 2011 as litigation dragged on seemingly without end has evaporated in the light of a much happier day.  I look at the calendar and see that it will soon by December 11, my ex-spouse's birthday.  I wonder if for her, also, the anger might not be giving way.  Could it not be that one day we will meet for a family event, perhaps our son's wedding, and give each other a faint smile of healing?  In the end, this Hamlet did act no matter what the pain.  The two main characters are both still alive and on-stage, free to live their lives now that the curtain has come down on a long and troubled marriage.  The time is no longer out of joint.  Imperfectly but to the best of my ability, I have set it right.

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There is very little that is Shakespearean about this song by Gordon Lightfoot, but anyone who knew us in the early days of our marriage will recognize it.  It is a birthday card to my ex-spouse with the hope for healing as we both move on while sharing a past that included a beautiful son, the Shakespeare Theatre, and much else that was good amidst the pain.