Someday in the not-too-distant future I’m going to write an update about how fun it is to live pain-free and how enjoyable my new vagina has become. This is not that day.
Last week I crossed the 4-month mark, which is sort of like turning 22 or 31 or any of those less remarkable milestones. I’m grateful to have made it through the past few weeks, though admittedly I had higher hopes about the corner I was supposedly rounding after month three.
Shortly after 3 months, when I expected things to get easier, I started experiencing a whole new level of pain. It was like when I first had the surgery, but coupled with the added responsibility of living everyday life. In the hospital I could lay in bed and call the nurse, but now I’m back on the hustle, running events at the Factory and what not.
The worst of it actually happened when I was on the west coast visiting family and friends for the holidays. I wasn’t able to sleep, it hurt to walk, stand, or sit, and even laying down provided little relief. I was popping Vicodin like candy, and also started taking nerve pills to cut down on the communication between my snatch and my spine.
Also when I was in LA my larger-size dilator fell off the bathroom sink and broke into pieces. Thankfully I was staying down the street form a large, mainstream sex shop. I walked in with a friend and the lady behind the counter was so helpful, looking up all the diameters of their dildos. At one point I told her, “I wasn’t born with mine, I’m just trying to break it in.” She laughed and seemed to be relieved. “I was going to ask but didn’t want to be rude,” she told me.
People are curious, I get that. And it’s a sensitive issue, I get that too. I guess that’s why I’m happy to be an open book about the whole thing. A lot of Trans people are trying to be stealth, to pass by undetected. I always figured that would never be an option for me, which held me back for many years. But it’s that same assumption that empowered me to launch KickStartHer and to continue telling my story as its happens.
When I got back to NY I finally broke down and made an appointment with my local doctor. Because Dr Suporn has such a unique approach to vaginoplasty, we Supornistas are actually discouraged from seeing other doctors until after the first year, since no other doctor would really know what they were looking at. In this case I had sent photos and a full description of the symptoms I was feeling to the Suporn clinic. I was told that everything looked normal, but the level of pain I’d been experiencing was not.
My first gynecological exam was surprisingly casual. My local doctor is a cool, young guy who also went to Santa Cruz. I’m actually the first patient who he’s seen all the way through a male-to-female transition. Because of this he had to call in a colleague to show him around, so to speak. They offered me a little modesty curtain but I was like, please, my vag is basically a public enterprise. When this other doctor took a peek the first thing he said was, “Whoa, nice work!” That’s definitely something worth hearing your first time in stirrups.
It turns out that aside from the granulation (unhealed tissue) I can see on my own, there are also a few places on the internal skin graft that still haven’t healed yet. So every time I dilate (now only twice a day, thank God) I’m rubbing up against those areas and irritating them. As raw skin they produce more moisture and…man I wish there was a better word for “discharge”–
Soooo I have this abundance of nectar flowing through me, which not only forces me to change my panties three times a day but also provides a wonderful environment for fostering infection, which is what I had unknowingly been dealing with.
It’s gotten better since, and everything looks a lot calmer, but I’m still waking up in the middle of the night with my yoni in a fiery rage.
I had another unfortunate backslide in my healing this month as well. In my last Post Op Post I wrote about joining this Trans & Fit group and how excited I was to get back into my body. So I got these workout DVDs and was all set to begin with a 3 week fitness reboot. 20 minutes into the first workout I burst into tears. The fatigue and weakness was so unfamiliar, I felt like I was in someone else’s body. It probably didn’t help that my muscles were still full of pain medication, and I realized quickly that I was not ready to begin an even moderate workout regimen. In fact, I pulled something in my lower back that had me nearly immobile and in an entirely different state of pain for a couple days. This was at the height of the infection mind you, so basically I was just done. Like, DONE.
The message from the universe was clear: Slow Down, take it easy, rest. But, like Alice in Wonderland, “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.”
One of the things that’s interesting for me is how open I’ve been about my process here via the written word, and yet how intently I feel the need to keep up appearances at Musical Theatre Factory, as if nothing’s going on. I joke about it, but sometimes during events I’m seriously toeing the line between merriment and agony.
It’s gotten especially high stakes now that I’m living at the Factory and trying to ensure its longevity. The other night I was hand washing my chonies in the sink, hanging them to line-dry on a guitar cable I had strung up between a water pipe and a clothing rack, and I thought to myself, one day I’m going to look back on the time I was 34 years old, living illegally in the back of an illegal porn studio in midtown Manhattan, with no kitchen and no heat on evenings and weekends, slowly recovering from a sex change, and trying to start an as-of-yet unsanctioned development organization for new musical theatre, and on that day I just hope I remember what it felt like to be LIVING THE DREAM!
As for the Beatrice Terry Residency, I learned last week that, while I made it to the top three finalists out of more than a hundred applicants, mine was not selected as the inaugural project. And that’s fine, really. In a way I feel it would have almost been irresponsible for them to award the fellowship to a transwoman in its first year. Not to be a biological essentialist, but the residency was created in memory of a woman writer/director and intends to create opportunities for other women writer/directors. I’ve only occupied the space of a woman writer/director for a couple years, but there are others who have been at it their whole lives.
Being a trans woman I have my own history of gendered challenges, but I also have my own history of male privilege, which I knowingly took advantage of at times when it served me. There is a reason I spent my first two years in New York as a guy, even if it was difficult or painful. I wanted people to take me seriously as a director and I wanted to build up a professional reputation as an artist before I became known as “that director who was transitioning.” Before, I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously if I came into the rehearsal room in a dress, now I have much more confidence claiming my space because I earned people’s trust and confidence in my work. I’m not sure how much of that had to do with me being perceived as male, but in my life of gender exploration I’ve repeatedly shied away from applying to opportunities geared toward “diversity” or “inclusion” because I felt my history of privilege didn’t warrant such support.
Now I’m feeling like, where are the diversity and inclusion programs for transgender artists?!? Yes, we are on trend, but we’re also marginalized, discriminated against, and dealing with a whole host of unique challenges that make it harder both to be ourselves and to make professional strides in our careers. There are reasons why transgender suicide rates are still higher than any other demographic group; societal attitudes may be changing, but the personal journey is still one fraught with violence, fear, and solitude. Obviously I’m still going to create a new show about my post-op experience, residency or not. The financial support and professional mentorship would have been nice, but that’s not to say those things won’t find their way to me in some other manner…
So, a couple nights ago I had the pleasure of seeing John Cameron Mitchell in his opening night performance of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH on Broadway. I honestly cannot count the number of times I’ve seen Hedwig, at the Jane Street Theatre, in LA, SF, and last year on the Broadway, but never before with her creator, JCM. His performance was so mature, so wise, so lived in and casual and ridiculously on point. Remember those posters that were big in the early 90s, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Life I Learned from My Dog” (or Cat, or Jewish Mother, or whatever)? Well I basically feel that way about Hedwig.
Hedwig, Angel, and Frankenfuter were basically the only clues I had to understanding myself growing up. I once performed the entire show for three friends in a hotel room at a gay rights conference in suburban Illinois, and later got a rock band together and did it again in the living room of The Quality House in Santa Cruz. I followed every incarnation of The Angry Inch, but the show changed for me after Thailand..Going through the surgery, having been “All Sewn Up”, learning how to “Love the front of me.” Now I feel like a veteran, like I have some kind of secret insider knowledge that few other people in the audience could ever understand. And of course it’s still a dream role, I would love to be a post-op trans woman playing Hedwig professionally, but even more than that, I look at Hedwig as a personalized period piece. I can track who I was in my life by reflecting on where I was in my life when I saw the show in its different iterations. (And that, my friends, is one of the reasons why I think Musical Theatre matters).
In one great moment in the play Hedwig spits water on someone in the front row of the audience as says, “That was a rock n’ roll gesture! Want to see a punk rock gesture?” She then takes a swig of water, leans her head back, and opens her mouth, letting it run down her neck and soak the front of her ripped denim dress. “It’s the direction of the aggression that defines it,” she tells the audience.
When I felt trapped in my body my aggression was pretty punk rock, an outward spectacle directed inward. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m still struggling to shake off patterns of self-abuse that stem from a lifetime of feeling betrayed by my body. But now, as I’m healing, I look at Hedwig and I think, let’s rock n roll!
One of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism teaches that Attachment is the root of all Suffering. Since the material world is inconstant and ultimately fleeting, it causes us pain when we try to hold on to things as they are, were, or as we think they should be. I am currently in the middle of one of the biggest lessons on Attachment that I’ve ever experienced. The last of this magnitude was probably 2007-9, when my grandparents died and JUNK closed in LA, and before that in 1998 when I dropped out of high school for the last time.
I am attached to this idea of becoming a woman, or a transwoman, or a transgender glam-rock icon, whatever. And I’m attached to this idea of Musical Theatre Factory, this space I’ve built with friends I love that already feels bigger than all of us. I’m attached to them because in moments of alignment they make me feel great pleasure, fulfillment, and sense of purpose. And I know, truthfully know for myself anyway, that things like fulfillment and sense of purpose are divinely ordained and come through you/me at the behest of a loving creator. In my experience it can be really dangerous to ascribe ones fulfillment and sense of purpose to something outside our direct communion with the Sacred. In “reality,” it is from this connection that all else should emanate.
It’s one thing to have that realization, it’s another to maintain that awareness as you go about living your life trying to “make something of yourself”
When Musical Theatre Factory first started, I figured we should try to find a way to make it sustainable, but also, if all that happened was that for one year we made musicals in the back of a porn studio, that would be fine too! A great story for sure! Now we are on the verge of announcing our first capital campaign, launching efforts to build a board of directors, and trying to take over the lease on this (or another) space to build a legitimate home for ourselves. From being content with the ephemeral to attached to permanence, thus begins the suffering. Bam. The anxiety over funding and fundraising, the responsibility for and toward a community, the irrational fear of committing to a career track that might somehow eclipse other longings and dreams.
And the same illusion is true for my transition. For years I surfed a kind of ambiguity, comfortable with a middle ground, enjoying the spectacle and freedom of androgyny, but also never really feeling what you might call Happy. Now, having made this commitment, becoming attached to the female form–a decision I am unmistakably happy with–suddenly the expectation to pass carries more weight and brings with it more pressures. Suffering. I find myself really disheartened when I notice people notice that I’m not what they initially expected. I can see the process in their eyes as they unpack the information gleaned from my height, my voice, my adam’s apple. “Is she or isn’t she?” Or worse, “is he…?” And even in small things, like the difference between a friend saying “I like your hair” or “I like your wig.” And when I’m called “sir,” which still happens on occasions when I’m rocking the short look, frankly I want to strip my pants off and shove their face in my inflamed neovagina and scream “WHAT ABOUT THIS READS ‘SIR’ TO YOU?!”
Physical pain is one kind of suffering, but in this case it’s manageable because I know, in time, that it will pass. The suffering of attachment is also optional (that’s another noble truth) because you can practice detachment.
So, I’ve given myself a motto for 2015. I don’t really believe in resolutions, but I love a good motto.
Keep It Open, 2015.
It works for me on multiple levels. I got this rigorous dilation ritual for my new vagina. Keep it open. I’ve got this new Musical Theatre Factory in the back of a porn studio. Keep it open. I’ve got this mind that likes to obsess about what’s going to happen in the future. KEEP. IT. OPEN.
And this is my way to reconcile ambition with detachment. There are some things I want to keep open, and it’s not easy work. But if I want it to work, then I have to stay open. Make sense? It’s sort of like how you can’t get a union job without being in the union, but you can’t get in the union without a union job.
Basically, the idea is that greater spiritual task will serve my body and my work, which will (hopefully) in turn serve the greater spiritual task. I mean, who really knows, right? But I’ve got the next few months to give it my best shot. KickStartHer closed and Musical Theatre Factory opened its doors within the same 24 hour period on May 31st last year. And it’s no coincidence that the current lease ends on the Factory one week after my one-year post-op anniversary, when supposedly I’m fully healed. These are and have always been parallel processes. MTF and MTF.
Rock n Roll.
Keep it Open.