A week out of chest reconstruction surgery and I'm washing half a flexiril down with a cup of coffee. I wish it was an oxy, but I have a history of eating those like tic-tacs, without any apparent effect on my breath, and so I am allowing them to sit safely in the closet, high up like a citadel I won’t in my weakened condition assault. My days of drug marauder are done, but like a battered one-eyed king I flip through pages recounting my younger antics with an arthritic finger and one gimlet eye, mostly rolling it skyward but occasionally letting it mist with frothy memories, and the dreamy buzz I am allowed in the afternoons I do swallow said pill feels like a hotly whispered solicitation from the hottest ex I never laid.
Fortunately, my real life, unadorned with chemistries and without a constricting vest, is waiting patiently off-stage, reminding me that absolutely none of this is real - this nipple-weeping, compressed, gluey bandaged time – and that my Actual Life is better than anything I might imagine here in post-surgical la-la land. Ah, but what might my Actual Life be, now that I am breastless!? “Do not expect surgery to ‘fix’ you,” I hear my post-sutured and scalpel’d friends mutter, “Beware your expectations!” Indeed, the bright red balloon of expectation springs a mild leak when I drape this new, more classical torso with fantastic shirts only to discover the boob bulge has been replaced with a belly.
Sigh. And even this morning, at the Jiffy Lube, where contrary to suggestion I am not looking for surgical aftercare, I am “ma’am’d” for an indiscreet sentence. Such is the life of the barely bearded, even sans breastesses.
I dreamed last night of fathomless obsidian waves crashing over the hull of my hospital bed cum sloop. It was exhilarating, like those weekends spent with Mom and Dad on the Chesapeake, standing on the bow as she took giant steps through cresting foam and jellyfish. Once, I fell in the drink like this, and despite my father’s stern “prepare to come about!” and “hard a’lee! ” as he masterfully cap’ned the vessel for rescue - head abob in the Maryland deep I laughed and laughed and laughed. Two weeks ago now I came out of anesthesia in real life, saw the bandages, and was filled with inexplicable joy. I am so powerful; nothing can stand in my way now, except my own mind. I try to make this mind like I make the bed, somewhat tidy and presentable, and that way when I return to it I feel a sense of order and ease. Unmade, irrational, I am anxious and sure of failure.
Transitioning is complicated. I walk to the courthouse (change my middle name from “Leigh” to “Lee” or keep it?) and smile g’morning to women who feel contractually obligated to respond aloud. Every fucking interaction is a magnum loaded with gendered obligation, every fired shot like the call/response of a frenzied preacher demanding an “amen” from the parishioners he’s entrapped with a promise of salvation – social masculinity is Kurtz in the shadowed corner and every woman must walk into his cabin with an interrogator's light in their eyes facing black. Only a former woman can know this – this daily submission to the male at large. It’s repugnant, ferocious. This cabin is piled high with skulls and everybody is welcome.
I am learning to live off the grid in another way entirely. I am completely unconcerned with my paper trail, my electric bill, my ss# and my dl. Instead I am wanting to become a vaporous presence, a scent maybe, that passes through the pedestrian and gives her pause. Claws, even. This carved out body, with its overly fleshy hams and sags atop a former athlete, is a kite to fly in an electrical storm. My born body was like a “boyfriend pillow” that I could hold in the night and snuggle up to – always apart from me in the middle of the bed. It is a condition of my transbeing that I may never be “satisfied” to be in this body ever (which makes me in many ways fundamentally American). I’m a baby transperson – these experiences, of testosterone, surgery, are a well-worn path I’m merely following generous and glittery signposts on. My advantage is I’m crafty and old to boot, but those two things line up to remind me that sharps and age don’t equal experience. The surgical removal of my breasts has been an encumbrance dissolved with stitches, and the breasts themselves were but the least of this dissolving.
Two holes were carved, like a Halloween pumpkin’s face, in my chest, for the same reason: to let the light shine out. You and I are the trick and the treat my sisterbrother, your scars between your legs magic glowworms and mine under my ribs too give the light and then the meaning to the form.