Tuesday, 9 February 2010

This one goes on for ever, you may want to give it a miss.

This post was started some time ago but I have left it as written.
It’s over a week since our trip to Glasgow and that strange interview I had. The result of what had been said has had some strange repercussions as we try to come to grips with it.

Until last week we more or less knew where we stood, for many years I have been making the move from the middle ground towards the feminine, a glacial rate of change which most people don’t think of or realise is happening.

When I had my orchiectomy 15 months ago it seems quite obvious to me that I would become a patient in need of care, part of the care would be the prescription for HRT to counter some of the losses incurred by the lack of testosterone. Loss of bone density and hot flashes are the two problems which come after an orchiectomy, HRT is the obvious thing to prescribe, my local health service suggested testosterone!

Finally they have given up on me and diverted me to the other side of the country to a clinic in Glasgow. A well woman clinic! I gained a few pounds over Christmas and New Year but it was mainly due to worrying about what this appointment was going to be about, I suspected I was going to join the system which I had spent so many years trying to avoid, and as it turned out I was correct.

After an hour and a half interrogation by a psychiatrist I didn’t expect to hear him say that he would support me however far I chose to go with this process, a process which I had never expected would or could reach it’s ultimate conclusion. I thought many factors were against me, age for one, I’m now in my late 50s. My wife Julie has a slight disability which only gets worse with time, the downtime involved with surgery seems to be a problem which would have to be overcome, she is hardly likely to enjoy a role reversal of helper! Even though the health service here pays the costs of surgery there is a not inconsiderable cost involved attending all the appointments, the clinics involved are 500 miles away and one hospital where they do the surgery is on the south coast of England. Now that Julie is retired our finances are quite limited, this would be an interesting challenge in itself. Being a critic of the protocols followed by the British health system regarding access to genital reassignment, especially regarding having to convince two psychiatrists that you’re not crazy and the health service lack of support for any physical appearance changes to help blending into society stopped me following the conventional route. I still think much of the thinking is back to front but not as bad as back in the early 70’s.

Despite all my efforts I seem to have been suckered into the system anyway, and now that I’m in the process have decided to go with the flow, ultimately this may turn out my advantage, who knows. Julie came on the trip I made to Glasgow and her first question when we met up after my appointment was how did it go? Like me she didn’t know I was visiting a psychiatrist at this clinic and when I told her what he’d said she was at first a little bit surprised and shocked but their acceptance of my condition finally allows her to give her unconditional acceptance too. Finally she doesn’t think I’m completely crazy either and this is a great relief for both of us. If this has been as far as it had gone and the next appointment led to a prescription of HRT we would have both been quite happy for she has long accepted that I have to try this. This was our horizon and we were getting close to it, to suddenly find a further horizon we did not think existed Leaveing us wondering if we have the energy and resources to reach there.

This is no simple process, nothing done in my life of the previous four decades counts for anything, living in an apparently female life for many years is not convincing enough for them, you almost have to wonder about drawing attention to yourself to prove how serious you are and the minimum year-long countdown doesn’t start until they say so. I’ve never liked the waiting especially with medical things, I’ve put myself at risk in the past rather than be on a medical waiting lists with all the anxiety which it provokes. Their process is going to put me on another never ending waiting list, oh what joy! And I still feel like I want to look more the part before having to make a declaration to the world and change my name, then I have to spend at least a year pretending to be a natural born woman. If I had been prescribed HRT 15 months ago as I expected I probably would look a lot more like the real thing, a bit of the bulge at the front would go a long way to helping persuade people that you might be the real thing albeit quite tall and with a large feet! When asked if I was worried about such an operation in any way I mentioned the anxiety and tedium of the long wait but said I was prepared to sign a consent form there and then if there was a cancellation for the next day!

Ultimately it’s not really down to me, it’s down to us, which really means is down to Julie. She is the one who really has to come to terms with this. It is one thing to have to live with somebody who is ambiguously androgynous verging on female and who’ve long only worn female clothing and apart from practical repairs around the house does little that could be attributed to a male, it is quite another to actually declare to the world that your partner of over half a lifetime is actually something completely different to what they expected and have come to know and has changed their name and will be even more overtly female. This is a big declaration of somebody to have to make. She has many more friends and colleagues out there in the world ready to judge her than I do. She has the real worry that they will immediately think she’s lesbian which is not how she thinks of herself at all. She has grown to like my hair free body and modified curves which she enjoys stroking, this is more sensual than sexual, that she gave up long ago. Clearly she just expects people to jump to a conclusion which does not exist but prays heavy on her mind. Since she doesn’t mind me taking the HRT and has no objection to me having my ears pierced now, she is not too worried about me taking on the more womanly appearance, so how far is the leap from that acceptance to the total acceptance leading to the surgery?

Strangely she has never really questioned me about the name I have for my female self. Several times she has offhandedly asked me, rather than give a clear answer I tried to get a dialogue going by asking her to write down some of the names she thought would be suitable. Thinking she would do this I have been somewhat surprised to find that the list was never created. Suddenly after the Glasgow trip she brought up the subject again, this time she has a name to play with which is an adaptation of my old name which has used by a friend in France for several years! Somewhere in her thought processes is this possibility of a name change, this must count as a positive step forward in her thinking. I don’t like to press too hard as to where exactly this thinking has got and I know I’m going to have to ask eventually, she’s not always too forthcoming on her thoughts!

So far I’ve seen one psychiatrist who has shown support, this is just a small chink of light in the darkness. In a few weeks time I have a second appointment with their other doctor, no doubt they both have to agree. We had been more openly talking about the subject since a trip to Glasgow but we really need to get our position sorted before the next visit in case questions crop up and I need instant answers, I don’t think it would look good to be uncertain on various topics and it would be good to be able to report positive support from Julie. In many ways I know I’m lucky, we have never had children to upset the equation, I never wanted to bring children into the world which did not seem to be able to accept someone like me and was lucky enough to find somebody who both liked me and didn’t want children either. She knew I was strange when she took me on, just how strange she didn’t know but has been quite happy to accept. We are a symbiotic team and neither of us would gain anything, rather we would both loose a lot by not being together. We have been the closest of friends for decades now, all couples who’ve been together this long will have experienced changes in each other and probably adapted to them if they are still together, ours is just a rather extreme version of change.

I wish I could just fast wind forward for a year and look back on this with amusement. Sadly that’s not possible and we have to live through some strange months in the near future. At the moment I really have no idea which way this is going to go. I pray the HRT arrives soon and does its job. So will I have joined the Alice in Wonderland process leading to surgery? I don’t know, really this is not in my hands now, Julie has to decide, my vote is cast but that 50% doesn’t win!

January is always a waste of time once the New Year celebrations are over we get a month of misery, this year we had weeks of ice and nobody could move and numerous people just gave up and died, can you blame them? Others tried to get about and broke bones, accident and emergency was full of them. A cousin’s neighbour broke his arm but not being content with this or learning a lesson went for a walk on the ice and broke his neck! We sensibly stayed put and stayed warm and put on the lights because the days are just so gloomy. Now things are looking up the days are longer and occasionally sunny, it is still freezing cold but moving into February is when I start to feel we have a New Year and hope is reborn. Time to start new projects, we closed the door on the room with the plumbing problem which has saved a fortune on heating but it’s far too cold to work in there still, so that can wait. The highest priority is to lose the few pounds I have gained comfort eating worrying about these crazy appointments. A friend came to visit today who has a rowing machine which he keeps in his garage to collect dust. I had been thinking about giving him a call and offering to dust it off and make sure it worked for a couple of months, he just turns up and I immediately start to ask about machine and halfway through the sentence realised he doesn’t look quite portly, drat!, after all these years he has suddenly started to use it! Just going to have to go with nice long walks and if it is sunny generate a little bit of vitamins D to counter the sadness of these dark months.

The real project I have to get on with is my exhibition in France. I now realise I should have pretended that it was a close friend having an exhibition, then I wouldn’t have felt I needed to be quite so guarded about the details like the name of the photographer! I could have written about the project quite openly as it progresses but I still keep a little bit of invisibility. An old friend wants to start a business creating and maintaining websites, he has been a lecturer in computer programming for his whole career and now wants to create a small business which he can continue into his retirement. It is months now since he made the offer to do one for me as a showcase for his new business and is caused me to fall into an embarrassed silence. In my heart I know I should have one of these things and between us am sure we could come up with a good result, at least I think it would be technically sound. For many years I have been embarrassed by my old self and to see a site advertising my old name at this time would be heartbreaking. In many ways I see the French exhibition is a swan-song for my old self, so even a site just about the exhibition is going to be a bit embarrassing and I don’t feel I want to waste his talents on something that small which will hardly be a showcase for him anyway. Guess I’m going to have to try to make one for myself again like I did for my last show. I was questioned about whether I would be prepared to change my name when I saw the psychiatrist and mentioned the fact that I did still trade on the remnants of a reputation gained under the old name and did occasionally bring in some small income. I forget exactly what he said that it was along the lines of the name change possibly being a good thing for my reputation! They would take a name change as a definite start to their year test.

In my wakeful hours in the middle of the night I sometimes imagine a situation where a small crowd of close friends and family is celebrating with me the successful opening of my exhibition. In my head I’m always already trying to plan the meals! Everybody is happy, it is the South of France at the end of May after all! It is a warm evening and we are just about to enjoy a meal few of us will ever forget! The one local product is wine so of course everybody is happy. If ever there is a moment to declare who and what I am this has to be it. With the warm weather there are a few clothes to hide the visible changes this is probably why a pass better in France. Newcomers will have had time to take note. The French love speeches at meals so I should declare that having a name which translates as a cold Atlantic fish and a cheap one at that is hardly suitable for such an exotic creature as myself. I should then say that my friend Babette has come up with a superior alternative which sounds softer and refers to a round and colourful landscape feature and suits me much better. Written here and played out in my head numerous times it seems so simple. If Julie gives me the go-ahead will I be able to pull it off with the style I have imagined? It reminds me of my fear of diving headfirst into water, for decades I could not do it for fear of the things that could go wrong though in my head it was also obviously simple, then one day I was first out of the changing room and a perfect empty pool lay ahead with no one watching. Without even thinking I accelerated for a few steps and before I knew it flew in a perfect arc into the pool. What an idiot to have waited so long.

Tears end transmission!

That was all written ages ago and I was just not sure about posting it there being something of a challenge buried in it. No mater how many times you go through something in your head it does not often work out on the day. I can’t see how it could work at the moment since it is now playing in my head in bad French!

Today Julie came and looked at the mac screen and I had left windows open all over the place, I did not think because I never look at what she does unless asked. We have been sharing it a lot recently so I got careless and she finally twigged who Caroline was! She did not miss a heart beat. I have not pestered her for her opinions on where we go next, just letting her think it out knowing that we would have to have a heart to heart before the next trip to Glasgow.

The new clarity about the situation has been absorbed and it is like spring has arrived and windows have been opened to let in fresh air and light. With only slight reservations about the practicalities of any future surgery she has little hesitation in supporting me through this though telling me that I will make an ugly woman, which while honest was not the most diplomatic thing to say.

Next appointment looms ever closer, still not sure what to expect but at least I will arrive with clear thoughts in my head, but shall I leave with the prize I have waited for for so long?


  1. Caroline, it's hard to tell if you're happy to be in the system, but I am happy for you. This is your last, best chance to answer all the questions that have eaten at you for decades. Late 50s is not too old to do this, girlfriend.

    I agree that the name change might spark interest in you professionally. Look at the comeback Wendy Carlos managed years after Walter's career had dried up.

    What an introspective and vulnerable Caroline we got to see here. Glad I didn't take the title's suggestion to heart.

  2. I too am glad I did not heed the title.

    It is never too late.

    Just promise us this: when you achieve your new-found notoriety please dress with more style than Grayson Perry.

  3. You go and write this beautiful blog, and before anyone has even read it, you try to shoo them away with a cautionary title - tsk tsk! You write wonderful, interesting blogs, Caroline. How could anyone who has been introduced to them, not want to read them all, regardless of length. Besides, it really wasn't all that long, and it never got boring. I have read a few screeds, by some long winded, and redundant bloggers, that were truly a pain to get through, but your blogs are never like that.

    You are so fortunate to have such a tolerant and accepting wife. Julie sounds like a treasure. I've been alone all of my life, save for a few fleeting and ultimately disastrous romances in my twenties. I can't even imagine what it would be like to have life long partner, who is also my best friend.

    You are on your way girl! Things will only get better for you, but you will need a lot of patience. Months long waits for appointments, and 500 mile trips to clinics? That's just crazy!

    Melissa XXOO

  4. Life begins at 40 but the 50s are better!

    Carpe diem, that's my advice.

  5. Dear caroline,
    I'm so glad i read your post, it gives real insight into how your feelings and emotions really are, it shows the thought process, the consideration that most of us have not just foer ourselves, but our loved ones to, 50's certainly isn't too old, I know a few ladies that had their surgery in their early 60's and they've never been happier, infact they're truly ''blooming''.
    The system is long, but it does stop one just getting carried away with thoughts only about imminent surgery, it gives us time to evaluate all the positives and negatives about transition, I know you've spent most of your life thinking about this, but truly when it becomes a reality the brain does kick into overdrive.

    Love Jen x

  6. Hi Caroline,
    Your first appointment went well and I am sure the second will go equally as well.
    Just be yourself and they will see that you for who you are.
    The future is there for you and Julie is being great in her support.
    Go and make your future what you want it to be.
    I hear that the 50's are the new 30's now a days!
    Make sure you take some photos of your exhibition. It sounds so extravigant. I would love to go if it wasent so far away.



Many thanks to all who ever joined in the conversation and to those who took the time to follow my zig zag to a new life..

I can be contacted on the email found on my profile page.