Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shifting Tides


Now that Lori could see, she was the navigator. She got a city map from a gas station and plotted out our routes in advance. We pedaled past the Westward Ho Hotel, down Central Avenue where square-faced Indian women sold beaded necklaces and moccasins on rainbow-colored serapes they'd spread on the sidewalk. We pedaled to Woolworth's, which was bigger than all the stores in Battle Mountain put together, and played tag in the aisles until the manager chased us out. We got Grandma Smith's old wooden tennis rackets and pedaled off to Phoenix University, where we tried to play tennis with the dead balls other people had left behind.
  • Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle
I have management books. I do. People give them to me all the time saying: “You should read this one. It changed my life!” These books are all about 150 pages.
  • Robert C. Martin

The object of this address, is to convince the public, that a reform, with respect to female education, is necessary; that it cannot be effected by individual exertion, but that it requires the aid of the legislature; and further, by shewing the justice, the policy, and the magnamity of such an undertaking, to persuade the body to endow a seminary for females, as the commencement of such reformation.
  • Emma Willard, “An Address to the Public, Proposing a Plan for Improving Female Education (1819)”

Barriers are falling, and it's about time. With the Federal Court ruling against discrimination of a transsexual woman with regards to employment,  we are seeing the culmination of tide that has definitely shifted in the last 20 years. We are seeing a level of understanding that

Also, it has been a month since I appeared before a panel at SelectHealth to further my appeal to their denial to provide coverage for sexual reassignment surgery. They said then that they would give me a decision in writing in 5 business days. When those 5 days were up, they realized that they needed more time to investigate the information I had provided. Every day, I brace myself for the letter as I check my mailbox, and yet, still nothing. I can only imagine that they are deadlocked and unable to come to a decision. At least, I was not rejected outright. Meanwhile, my estrogen tests came back covered. It's a waiting game.

At work, I am having to overcome a leadership double-standard. As a woman, I am expected to be even-tempered at all times and to be able to influence people tactfully, versus the emotional expressivity usually expected of men. My team lead looked at my performance objectives and said I am "making progress" on my influence skills. I almost laughed. Obviously, he doesn't read QSaltLake or Salt Lake City Weekly. It's interesting to be recognized by people on the street because of those articles, yet the people I work with seem to be completely incognizant of the situation. It's nice.

So part of the strategy to "improve my communication" is to facilitate a reading group that includes leads and developers. The first book on the list? The Leader's Guide to Radical Management. Quite appropriate. I wasn't even on the email distribution list, and now I'm leading the group. We start the discussions in January. Oh the hoops we must jump through.

This weekend, I attended a wonderful 2 hour workshop on improvisational dance by The Lady Fred. She is such a wonderfully sweet person, and absolutely amazing and improvisational expression. She inspired me to return to allocate time for improvisational dance again, which I aim to fully use in piece that Myst is doing for Dancing in the Snow next month. Most of the dancers that attended the workshop are coming from the opposite direction from me: afraid of looking bad doing improvisational dance, they first focused on safety in troupes and choreographies. I, on the other hand, was much more afraid I didn't have it in me to learn a choreography or develop the associated technique; so I took refuge in dancing solo, improvisationally, knowing no one would know if I messed up. I found out earlier this year that, while it does take a lot of work, I can learn a choreography. Unfortunately, I became so bound in trying to overcome my weakness, that I eventually stopped taking enough moments to tap into pure improv. I'm glad I took the class. It will certainly help.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sofia

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance

It was Transgender Day of Remembrance 3 years ago, 2008. I attended a candlelight vigil that night at a Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas—and it was the first time I attended a church service as Sophie. There were several of my transgender friends attending and I thought it would be a welcoming place to go.

I also had a friend at work who suggested that I try out the Unitarian Universalist church because of my spiritual experiences that did not line up completely with the spiritual doctrine I had grown up under. I had already outed myself to her and she was fast becoming a good friend. So, in early December, I checked out the local Unitarian Universalist Church, Westside. I went as male and confided to the person who greeted me that I was transgender. She told me about how they had a program for the kids to help them understand lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. I decided that I would alternate between the two churches. I wasn't brave enough to show Sophie in public to people I hadn't met yet. I decided I would go female to the MCC and male to the UU.

A few weeks later, I dressed up as Sophie to attend the MCC and was on my way, when I felt an incredible spiritual pull to go to Westside Unitarian instead. I thought to myself, Oh great. I'm not ready. I followed the compulsion anyway and was greeted with warmth by the ladies of the church. You know, I never made it back to the MCC church, and I never told them about my former male experience. The Unitarian Church embraced me, kissed me on the cheek and gave me room and encouraged me to grow into the person I was meant to be.

Since Sunday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, I wrote a poem a couple of days previous to share with my congregation the feelings it engenders in me. It's called, “I Cried” and I also posted on the green project board I put together in the foyer before moving it  the reception area.

I Cried

I cried.
When I read
How you died.
How your body was mutilated
Beyond recognition.

I cried
Because you died
For who you were

You had the courage
To Be
Free.

I cried
Because I lied
Because your fate
Might Be mine.

They identify your body
And I cry.

I don't feel safe
When I read
Almost daily
The same
Sad tale.

Because you might have been me,
I cry.

They can't find
Who took your life,
Or when they do,
Blame you
For being true
To yourself.

Tonight
I light a candle
To honor the spirit
The courage
The hope in the darkness
So I don't have to cry
Anymore

Sofia Jean Featherwind, November 18, 2011, For Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today, when I got home, I received a pleasant shock. In an envelope in my mailbox was a letter from my health insurance essentially approving coverage of the hormone therapy that was prior to my surgery in May and tagged as a complication. It's been more than a couple of weeks since I appeared before a grievance committee to present my argument of why they should cover my surgery. I'm taking this as a positive sign.

You need to make sure you carve out time for yourself. And if you're going to work crazy hours at something, make sure it's something you can feel compassionate about.

I'm done leap frogging jobs, because I found that I didn't have the passion to sustain the loyalty I kept throwing into companies just to have it betrayed when they needed money.

I leave between 4 and 5 pm every day and live my life outside of the office where I find my true meaning. Yeah, from 8:30 to roughly 4:30, I guide the team and run it when the lead is absent, handling all the tech issues, etc. But when I walk out that door, I breathe because I have dreams and aspirations to work on.

I have been performing. I lost count of the number of solos I did, and I did one with an ad hoc troupe. Three of us may be forming up to create a more permanent troupe named Desert Mist. I am so excited. Almost every day sees me practicing, unless I am taking a couple of days off for muscle recovery. I just got done with two back to back solos on the last two weekends. I did one choreography and a couple of drum improvisational dances for the church carnival and three choreographed pieces and another improv at an art gallery as part of the live entertainment for an after conference party.

I am signed up to perform at the January Winter Festival with Desert Mist, a couple of solos in February and in March, my performing class Azalea starts doing performances until September. So, I've been keeping myself busy.

The one thing I have learned is that things almost always go wrong. The best thing you can do is smile and keep on going, remembering that you are doing it for fun.

I've had a couple of articles posted in biweekly periodicals. One was about my battle with my insurance company and the other was a piece about me and my book.

My kids will be with me tomorrow through Sunday morning for Thanksgiving break. I'm planning on taking them shopping, to the movies and to Thanksgiving dinner at Golden Corral.

Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving,
Sophie

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Creativity out of Chaos

The Censor is part of our leftover survival brain. It was the part in charge of deciding whether it was safe for us to leave the forest and go out into the meadow. Our Censor scans our creative meadow for any dangerous beasties. Any original thought can look pretty dangerous to our Censor.

The only sentences/paintings/sculptures/photographs it likes are the ones that it has seen many times before. Safe sentences. Safe paintings. Not exploratory blurts, squiggles, or jottings. Listen to your Censor and it will tell you that everything original is wrong/dangerous/rotten.

Who wouldn't be blocked if every time you tiptoed into the open somebody (your Censor) made fun of you? The morning pages will teach you to stop listening to that ridicule. They will allow you to detach from your negative Censor.

-- Julia Cameron, The Artist's Way

I totally miffed it last night. When the world goes to chaos, it's time to just go with the creative energy. "Indian Outlaw" didn't go as planned. I could barely hear the music and it was well on its way before I could get in position on the floor.  The audience was fairly empty because everyone was in line to get food, and I started missing all my musical cues. Everything that could go wrong seemed to do so. All of my isolated mistakes from previous practice sessions seemed to all hit at once. I got confused at The Huntress and couldn't keep my balance in The Bow. I had to make up filler content on the spot to get back in sync. I just smiled and kept on going until I got backstage and beat myself up in my frustration.

But no one seemed to know about my mistakes. I was told, "I like your costume" and "That was a pretty dance." If I had done it right, I should have been feeding the energy to the audience and hearing "That was awesome."

I waited what seemed like forever for the clown I was to follow with my Shakira number. There were a lot of lulls between acts. The sound that seemed to be working was that coming from the live singers. Even the guitarist could barely be heard. And as much as I scanned the crowd, I could find no clown.

I danced by the silent auction table to the singers on stage, reminding myself very sternly that I do this for fun. It served as the warmup I needed, the one I missed just trying to get to the church in time to do  an equipment check before the auction began.

Then the drumming circle took the floor, but only right after I was asked if I wanted to go ahead and perform my next piece. I knew their improvisational rhythms were great--so I asked if I could dance with them. They indicated the space Deborah had cleared out earlier for my dance in front of the drums and I stood just outside the last drum on stage left until I could mimic the first beats with my body. I made my body a visual drum, trying to anticipate the next beat, shimmying, bumping and turning to the audience, dancing to them. I picked out groups of faces in the well lit audience and smiled my ecstatic pleasure at them as I let the energy course through my muscles.  

When I had started, the audience was half-packed. When the song was over, it was standing room only. Women in the back were dancing along, someone was clapping out the beat, ululations were very clear, and after a very long grueling of channeling the creative energy, the last beat was struck.

I figured I just barely had time to rest before my next routine if I bowed out immediately. I also thought that I had borrowed enough of the spotlight from the drumming troupe. As I stepped away from the floor into the audience, someone yelled, "Encore!," and it was clear the audience would not allow me to stray without another round. Not sure if I could repeat, I released myself to the gathering beat.

My improvisational ecstatic dance was light-years ahead of my choreographed routine. The frenzy was awesome, but I was starting to feel the sweat, loss of breath, and aching muscles threatening to overwhelm me. It was clear I was done for the evening.

Belly dancing takes a tremendous amount of energy. This was the first time I had ever performed more than one routine in public, and I did three! Not the two I expected, but still...This time I was approached by so many more people and started hearing my favorite phrases: "That was awesome!," "I know how difficult that is," and "How long have you been doing this?"

And there's the rub, the reason I shouldn't be beating myself up. It's been only four months since I started taking serious lessons. In that time, I've lost track of the number of performances I've done, as well as being admitted to a dancing troupe, and encouraged to keep performing! What has seemed like forever to me has in reality been a very short time. I just had major surgery almost 6 months ago!

Of course, I think I've hit my maximum amateur audience size. I can't think of any events I could appear at that would host more that 200 people, except maybe the pride festival next June. Joni has already reserved the space and is expecting me to dance. I will definitely want to dance with a live band playing.

Next weekend, I am performing at the Gender Conference After Party. I've got my workout practice cut out for me. I can't wait to share all this with my private instructor tomorrow. Wait until I tell her someone videotaped my performance and is emailing me a copy.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sofia Featherwind

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fama

Fama, that much-coveted goddess, has many faces, and fame comes in many sorts and sizes—from the one-week notoriety of the cover story to the splendor of an everlasting name.

Walter Benjamin

I have been contemplating when my story would finally come out--when someone in the press would take note of some aspect of my life and decide to do a piece on me, exposing me in such a way that I would be thrust into the advocate spotlight, sacrificing some of the stealth I enjoy.

I admit that I don't always pass as well as I like, but for the most part, people are wonderful and let me enjoy the fantasy of doing so. They are my friends and I love them all.

I thought the exposure would come through my dance. In fact, I took the stage in front of 178 people to do my solo last night, very aware that it has only been 9 months since I started taking lessons.

I practiced my heart out for the last couple of weeks, trying to figure out what I was going to do with Indian Outlaw by Tim McGraw. It was a song I wanted to do because I normally see Halloween as a time to honor my Tsalagi (Cherokee) roots.

I was making good progress. I quickly figured out the chorus routine in a matter of minutes and then I threw in The Huntress and The Bow from my private instructor. I finally filled the intervening space for the refrain with The Grapewine--a modified Grapevine. Then for the close, I did a spin and drop with undulating death throes, before returning to life to blow a kiss.

I spent an hour each day I could going over it. Then I got my flu shot last Friday. I wound up too nauseous to do anything on Tuesday except watch myself fall behind in my performance class and I had lost my balance until Thursday. Friday was a very light practice day, so I was a bit nervous by the time Saturday rolled around.

I needn't have worried. When I finally got up to perform, I just had to smile while they looked for my music, throwing a couple of shimmies with my back to the audience. I thought my routine was going to be so boring compared to what everyone else had done so far. Gorgeous Wendy had loaned me her foot-long feather earrings that tickled my chest, and suddenly the music started.

I was feeling it--the deep spiritual connection I get when I share a piece of performance art. Everything felt great and I was surprised at how wonderful the audience was, clapping the beat, whistling and hooting through the two advanced moves I had thrown in, the deathly pawl as I struggled against death, and the cheers when I rose from the dead and blew kisses to the audience, all in tune to the beat.

It was wonderful seeing kisses blown back.

During intermission, as I sought out my friends and teachers I got wonderful compliments on my performance. I was approached by someone else who had Cherokee roots and loved the song as well as my interpretation.

I was really surprised at the support. Looking back at the photos I am really astounded by the amount of energy that I brought to what I thought was going to be an over-simplified routine.

There were a number of great dancers last night. I am proud that so many of them are now my friends. Thia's annual Halloween Show is wonderful and I am so happy that she let a newbie like myself solo. She is so sweet that she invented "Best Indian" as well as other prizes to make everyone feel like a winner. I'm fortunate to have her as a teacher.

My next performance is going to be at the South Valley Carnival and Auction on November 5. I'll be doing at least two routines. I don't know if the audience will be larger that 178, but if it is, I'm ready for it. I am going to try to learn one more routine by then, so I'll have three to perform that Saturday.

Today, I had a Welcome to Womanhood moment--a urinary tract infection. Trust me, they suck. I treated myself with cranberry juice and rest.

Tomorrow, it's back to work at my day job and my private lesson afterward. Then I'm meeting a photographer for a Weekly publication. It seems that my struggle with the insurance company over my appeal left me in such a state last week that it attracted media attention.

Friday, I met with a reporter for my interview at a Thai restaurant and he is anxious to write something up and publish it. He also suggested a photographer come over to get my photo for the piece when I suggested just providing a photo. And so I shall be thrust into the limelight for simply standing up for what I know is right--for myself, and for others.

I have tried so hard to live stealth and not draw undue attention to my status, but somehow I am drawn to speak for--to advocate--my story so that others may be similarly understood.

Is it bravery or courage? No. It's simple expediency. It's need. If my appeal for surgical coverage would have been handled independently of my other medical routines instead of as an excuse to deny me coverage, I wouldn't need this exposure.

But when people do things that depress me, I only can find two actions available to my mind: I can either mire myself in the mud of despair (and trust me, it's very tempting) or I can fight back. I have no choice.

I knew this time was coming; I just didn't expect it would be here so soon.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Beginnings

Something touched my shoulder. I whirled and saw the Lord of Beasts looking at me from the gap ten feet away.
 Ilona Andrews, Magic Bites

When I joined Mecha's class six weeks ago, I had no idea I would soon be experiencing my first troupe performance, let alone hearing words like awesome, cute, precise and pizzazz in reference to it. I had joined her class as a way to get back to belly dancing while waiting to officially join Azalea, the beginner Egyptian performance class taught at the same school by Thia, the school's owner. Azalea didn't kick off until this last Tuesday.

When I showed up for the "advanced beginner" class six weeks ago, I was simply trying to mimic the moves of the very adept teacher as she wended her way through routines. Three weeks ago she announced that she had permission to debut her class as a troupe to Shakira's "Ojos Asi." Since I was about to leave the class the following week, I asked her to copy me the FaceBook link to the event so I could come watch. Her response? An incredulous, "You're just going to watch?!"

"You want me to dance with you?"

"Just let me know how you feel about it on Thursday." I realized I had two weeks to memorize a choreography that I hadn't expected to perform. So my two-a-week sessions, including my private lessons with Kelsey in tribal fusion, suddenly expanded to three when it was time for me to start with Azalea. Mecha happened to be subbing for the class, so I got extra time with her to pick up another segment of the choreography.

Each night I put in about an hour trying to get through the moves, to the neglect of much of my other training. Azalea started in full swing on Tuesday, launching immediately into drills of my first choreography there. I was consistently called out on various issues, mostly due to the tribal style I had picked up and need to tweak for Egyptian dance. It also comes as no surprise as most of the girls have at least a year or more of belly dancing in Thia's schools. They say it's a test and a compliment to be picked on or singled out in her class. She wants to see how you respond to criticism and she only does it with dancers in whom she sees potential. But let me tell you it's rough, and I want to improve so she doesn't keep stopping the class for my personal instruction.

Saturday, I and the other girls in New Beginnings--Tammy, Heather, Rebecca, Kathey and one other girl I feel guilty about not remembering her name--arrived at Sugar Space at 7 pm, one hour before performance to block out our performance. I was so nervous and running late that I hadn't realized until I took off my heels to practice that I was wearing a mismatched pair of shoes. We were third in the lineup and I was hoping I was going to do a lot better than our last practice, trying to clear my mind.

It wasn't long until we took the stage following a drum solo, a incredibly fluid dancer and a very long announcement introducing our first performance. I couldn't see the audience clearly due to the lighting and once we were about 16 beats in, the room was full of beat clapping guiding us through. I lit up my smile and flirted as best I could with the audience to the fast paced music, and before we knew it, the routine was ended. I blew a couple of kisses at the audience as we exited to the applause.

Once we returned to our seats, I kept hearing how they loved my costume and how awesome the performance was. Thia also told me, "You were awesome." I sought out my private instructor who had come to see me so I could thank her for coming and she said the same thing, complimenting me on a cute smile as well. I confessed that I made a few mistakes, and she insisted that there weren't any and she was watching for them. She didn't see them. I had successfully covered over them. But this being a community and we being beginners I certainly wasn't go to let the few words go to my head until I saw what the announcer Yasmina, herself a long time veteran and organizer of Night at the Casbah, posted on Mecha's wall:


Your solo had so much passion and left the audience wanting more Mecha! AND finally--what can I say about your babies-"New Beginnings?" They stole the show last night--the audience went wild--AND if that was their first performance--we are going to have to hold onto our seats for their second show! NEVER have seen a first-time group perform with such precision and pizazz!

I am flying higher than a kite. I see my private instructor tomorrow and back to Azalea class the day after. I am also back to only those two lessons and an occasional drop in on Mecha's class--that is, unless there is  a second performance.

Hugs and Blessings,
Sofia Featherwind

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Finding Meaning in Life

Suzanne's move toward divorce was the turning point-it gave them "the gift of desperation." For the first time, Michael seemed willing to explore just how painful his life had become. During one session, when they were discussing a heavy snowstorm in the Denver area, Michael mentioned that his 64-year-old father had just missed his first day of work in 20 years. I asked Michael what that meant to him. His eyes welling up with tears, Michael said he wished his father had enjoyed his life more. I wondered aloud if Michael had ever wished the same thing for himself. "I'm scared," he replied. "I'm scared of what would happen if I stopped working all the time. I'm even scared to stop worrying about the business-scared that I might be overlooking something important that would make my whole business crumble before my eyes."

Christopher K. Germer PhD. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions (Kindle Locations 312-316). Kindle Edition.

I program for a living and get paid well for it because it's something that I turned out to be good at. As a child, it certainly never was one of the things on my list of careers. It wasn't dancing, singing or riding the range. I have a Master's Degree and wrote a thesis in data mining while trying to prepare for a compensatory career.

That career paid my loyalty back three times with layoffs and the resultant tears of feeling betrayed. No, I don't find meaning in my job; but that doesn't mean I give it my all when I'm there or not continue my education in my spare time. However, my spare time is mine and it's dedicated to expression.

I'm sitting on my couch--in partial costume, because I don't have class until 8 pm tonight and last week I was the only one to show up at the belly dance session not in costume. Therefore, with a little encouragement, I'm dressing for the occasion. This is my next to last lesson with the Baby Bellies class before my first day in the troupe class. I've already practiced my private lessons for the week today, zils and a couple of combo moves. The first combo is a traveling outer hip circle I am going to use when I perform to "Lantern" by Beats Antique and the other is a sequence of neck circle, chest circle and outer hip circle. It's fun, but the neck circle is hard.

Last night I took on the duties of the Welcoming Chair for my church, and wrote the schedule for the next two months today, sending it to all the greeters. I also have the added responsibility of facilitating the Newcomer's  Welcome every third Sunday as well as greeting people on the first Sunday of each month and stocking pamphlets. My free time is rapidly being depleted again. As a result I almost didn't make it to the free showing of The Virgin Suicides last night. I have dance class tonight, my support group meeting tomorrow and need to take the cat to get her next round of shots on Saturday. Did I mention that I lost a toenail this morning?

Meanwhile, my insurance claim for surgery is formally moving into the appeals process with the signed appeal request that my broker mailed to SelectHealth. They had the gall to deny payment to my Ob/Gyn, claiming that it was a complication due to a procedure they don't cover. We're trying to get the doctor to send in a letter stating otherwise. I bet SelectHealth is just hoping I'll go away.

That's about all the news for now, with the exception of a domestic dispute last night of a neighbor friend that I had to call the police for.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dancers Don't Pay for Drinks

Why is it so hard to extend the same kindness to ourselves that many of us gladly offer to others?

Christopher K. Germer PhD. The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions (Kindle Location 24). Kindle Edition. 


The whole idea came about as a sort of accident. I wasn't really planning to do it. Just last Thursday, I had admitted to a couple of girls in dance class that I wasn't ready to do a solo performance at the Halloween party. But when they insisted that I didn't have anything to worry about, the idea started to marinate.

Friday morning, I realized what song I would do if I had the chance. I figured that maybe I could pay attention to the improvisational way I was dancing and lock in a choreography. That turned out to be really difficult, because the cataloging part of my brain kept getting overshadowed by pure expression in the dance; so I shot off a message to my private instructor and she said that she'd help.

So Friday night I went to a potluck for a support group in Ogden. I didn't make it back to bed until about 3 in the morning. About 10 am, I got a sweet singing voice calling me to wish me good morning and ask if I would take and love Callie the Kitty forever and ever. Turns out that she wasn't getting along with her adopted sister and I made a rush to get food and a litter box from the store before bringing her back to my place. From the paperwork, it looks like she's due her next round of shots and I'll have to take her in Saturday.

Once she was settled, and I had finished my morning therapy and bath, I finally got on my laundry. I squeezed in a little practice before going to the Hafla at a local coffee shop, and when I saw the way the red hip scarf looked on my black skirt, I knew I had to dress up for the event and maybe dance if I were invited. I had Deborah help get me into the tribal bra when she showed up at my place and after a bit of makeup, I wrapped myself in the brown veil. We arrived at the coffee shop long before anyone else and I was struck by how intimate the setting was. I was expecting a dance party, not to actually be part of the entertainment.

When Kelsey, my instructor, arrived, she asked if I wanted to dance. I said, "I'll dance." She came back a little while later and gave me my sequence in the line up. I decided I was going to go for it and make my entrance with a veil routine before shucking the veil for the rest of my improv.

The song seemed to last much longer than it felt when practicing and when I started the shimmy, it had a mind of it's own and lasted until the rest of the dance as I wondered how I was going to come out of it. I wound up just layering on it and just barely noticed the wind down of the music as my cue to make a graceful exit. The audience was small, but when I sat down with one of the people who recognized me from the apartment complex, said that she could tell I've been doing this for years. But the bigger compliment came from my instructor, who simply said I did good.

As I was outside getting air with the other dancers, the owner of the coffee shop (herself a dancer) asked if anyone would like more coffee. After  I snuck back to my purse, and returned to the bar with my wallet, I ordered a small mocha. When I tried to pay with my debit card, I was told flatly, "Dancers don't pay for drinks." Wow. I was being treated as an entertaining professional, instead of just a participating customer. I made it a point to get a dollar or two from Deborah so I could drop it in the tip jar when I had the chance.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Memory of a Good Deed

AN OLD WOMAN found an empty jar which had lately been full of prime old wine and which still retained the fragrant smell of its former contents. She greedily placed it several times to her nose, and drawing it backwards and forwards said, “O most delicious! How nice must the Wine itself have been, when it leaves behind in the very vessel which contained it so sweet a perfume!”

The memory of a good deed lives.

Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop's Fables (p. 35). Amazon Digital Services, Inc..

Tuesday marked the fourth day I was back on the pill--this time at 2 mg a day. I was also cramping, and extremely lightheaded--on the verge of a migraine and I am still battling the vestiges of a  nasty weekend cold. I had already seen the denial of both my surgery and my Ob/Gyn claims, which was confirmed in an email by the broker working my claim. I was feeling pretty hopeless during the TransAction ice cream social that evening. When I got home, I realized that I only had two choices available to me: I could let either let the hopelessness sink in or I could refuse to let the insurance company scare me. I chose the latter. I also saw my hematologist on Tuesday. My iron counts are back to normal.

Last night, I was on my way to check my email, when I saw a cat in the arms of a neighbor that looked identical to the one that had gone missing. When I asked her where she got the cat, she said it was a stray, and had taken it in a couple of weeks ago to keep it from heatstroke. When I told her I knew who the cat belonged to, she was surprised, because the owner is a friend of hers, too. I carried the cat over, hoping the owner would be home and she was happy to play through the patio door with a kitten that someone had donated to the owner a week ago. She wasn't that excited when I betrayed her trust by coaxing her into my arms so I could take her back until her owner got home. But I didn't want her wandering off and getting lost again while I went back to my apartment to meet the pizza guy.

My bleeding is definitely back today. I was spotting the tissue paper for the last couple of days. It's definitely cyclic. 31 days between the first two episodes and 25 days between the last one and today. You can do the math. But at least I didn't drop a dangerous amount of blood.

Tonight is my third day with the Baby Bellies dance class under Mecha. In a couple of weeks, I'll be swapping that class for a performance troupe class on Tuesdays. I squeezed in zil practice as well as dedicating a little time to the 3/4 shimmies, snarms (tribal fusion snake arms) and external hip circles that Kelsey, my private instructor, and I worked on. Everything right now is mimic and muscle memory.

Tomorrow, it's time to make a trip up to Ogden again to meet with the Intersex Society of Utah support group and dinner afterwards. Saturday, there's a Hafla (Belly Dance party) at Caffe Deffla in the late afternoon, and Sunday there's a potluck after church.

It look like my only chance of getting laundry done is to get my butt up on Saturday and do it first thing.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Small Fish

A FISHERMAN, engaged in his calling, made a very successful cast and captured a great haul of fish. He managed by a skillful handling of his net to retain all the large fish and to draw them to the shore; but he could not prevent the smaller fish from falling back through the meshes of the net into the sea.

Translated by George Fyler Townsend. Aesop's Fables 

It's been a while since I've posted. I've been pretty busy lately. So I am going to totally skip over the last few weeks and focus on recent events. That said, I'll simply go back a few days and start from there.

Saturday, Thia's Belly Dance school was hosting the end-of-year recital, and I got a peek at my future. Azalea was one of the first groups coming out with veils and I absolutely loved the costumes. Watching the movements, I think I'll be okay when I join the troupe next month. I know two of the members, both of them leaving the troupe by the time I join. One of the members I know from church and the other I met Thursday night when I resumed lessons under Mecha. The first girl has been with the group for two years and is ready to move up. The other is just moving--out of state. Thia looked at me after the performance and said, "That's you next year!"

That was the beginning of a long, but interesting night. I got an email message from someone who wanted to meet to discuss belly dancing, surgery and other things. I hadn't had anything to eat yet, so I suggested we meet at Denny's. While we were there, Sheila called and we met up with her to see the 10 pm showing of The Help. I highly recommend it. While slow in the beginning, the plot slowly accelerates to more than make up for it--and I learned a lot. The book is now officially in my reading pile.

Saturday night's cramps led into Sunday morning light bleeding. Later that afternoon, I went to check on a friend who was separated from her young daughter and had a long-haired calico cat wander off. I hadn't seen her for a few days and figured I should at least knock on her door when I didn't see her outside. This was the first time I had ever knocked on her door. A police officer answered the door and I saw his female partner just inside. I was thinking, Oh my God--I'm too late. My feelings were intensified when my friend's 67 year-old mother approached me, her eyes red from crying and reaching for a hug. I couldn't make out all the words, but she said something about her oldest daughter being killed. Oh shit.  I really was too late. She asked me too take care of a young calico kitten that someone had left the night before. I found out later that Marie was not referring to my friend, especially when she came in the door, her eyes streaming. Such tragedies have touched that family to now include losing a brother-in-law and a sister in an airplane accident.

Callie--she was yet to be named and I was given the permission to use the name--is a bundle of energy. She's taught me to take off my cat-toys--I mean earrings--when going to bed. She cuddles up next to me when dilating and when she's not fluffing out my hair, she's trying to nibble on my ear. But she is such an unbelievable cuddler. She answers to Cali-Girl.

Monday evening I had my first private belly dance lesson. God was I sore afterwards! We worked on posture, shimmies and a really fluid way to do chest circles, something Kelsey calls bananas. I couldn't move afterwards and it wasn't until today that I could practice.

I saw the Ob/Gyn today, The confusing mass on my CT scan turned out to be my traveling gonad. I guess it had one last chance to cause confusion before it was finally removed 3 months ago. Since no endometrial tissue has been located yet, I am to stop taking progestin immediately and I have a standing order that next time I either bleed in buckets or bleed at all when the granulated tissue is healed, I am to go immediately to her office (only applies Monday to Thursday. We'll see if my body will adhere to external directives). I'll also be referred to a developmental endocrinologist if that happens. Meanwhile, my next appointment is in mid-October since I'm changing the estrogen dose to 2 mg daily.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Importance of Support

Donelle was not post-op. I personally believe that someone going through the transition process needs to have close contact with support psychologists. The argument of community support presupposes that counselors are available and being used. But unfortunately, just having counselors is not enough. Having a supportive family environment lends to the emotional stability and the groups that I mentioned in my previous post are creating allo-families for their members.

When it comes time for surgery, before the counselor writes that letter of approval, she needs to do her best to make sure that all the co-morbid conditions have been addressed, and that the patient has learned how to deal with the issues in a healthy way. I met one girl in Thailand who didn't seem at all ready, really seemed to lack compassion for others and everything was all about her, that everyone should do the same things she did.

All of the post-op women I have met have issues, but none require seeking continuing psychotherapy, with the exception of the one I just mentioned. What they need is to exchange experiences with other people in the trans community. What they need is family.


There are some who after surgery want to hang on to the trans label for the rest of their lives--and that is a personal decision that should be honored. I don't consider myself transsexual anymore; I consider myself an ally who has been there. Unfortunately, I had to label myself as a "post-operative transsexual woman" when reporting a Ross store manager to corporate over an incident that happened last weekend in order to be completely honest. He has been disciplined, but I don't know the extent of the discipline and whether it was satisfactory or not.

After standing up, reporting him, contacting the local trans activists and encouraging a boycott, I had an emotional meltdown on Tuesday. I began to fear that all other people saw was a man in a dress and I was deceiving myself to think otherwise. I reached out to my friends, 2 natal women and a long time crossdresser. First was my best friend and then a woman I know in the complex while we were hanging out at the pool. Finally, Deborah came over as usual, and I was completely over the meltdown, since she has only ever pictured me as a woman.

I didn't turn to Deborah first, because trans hurt. Trans was the source of pain. I turned to my women friends that accept me as one of them first. I needed to feel beautiful again, and they helped.


Then, yesterday, I started cramping. I didn't have an estrogen injection and thought it very ironic that the android app for menstrual cycles said it was the day I was supposed to ovulate. Meanwhile, the support staff from Dr. Suporn has been suggesting that my cramps are psychosomatic.


I had never heard of anyone cramping every two weeks before and I decided to look it up on Google. What I found is that 1 in 5 women suffer from ovulation cramping that lasts anywhere from a few minutes to one day. I was dearly hoping that it would last only a few minutes. But what I didn't understand was how I could be having ovulation pains when I don't have ovaries. And what I found was interesting. The pain is usually caused by the fallopian tubes contracting after the egg was released, that it is possible for women to have cramps if they have only had an oopherectomy (the ovaries removed). The pain was finally gone this morning.


So I have learned 3 things:
  • My psychosomatic condition is pretty accurate with regards to things I don't know about.
  • The frequency of my cramping is not driven by estrogen levels in the bloodstream, but is on a hard-wired clock, occurring every other Wednesday.
  • The intensity of the cramping, on the other hand, seems to be positively correlated to the amount of estrogen in the blood.
I am on a temporary overdose of estrogen. A couple of weeks ago, my estradiol count was 748 on a scale that only goes up to 500, because I was still taking bi-weekly injections after surgery. I am now waiting until a full 4 weeks between injections, and letting the estrogen starve slowly out.

But today is my birthday, and I haven't figured out what I want to do yet. So far, I'm just hanging out.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Tragic Loss

The number one danger to the transsexual, transgender and intersex communities is ourselves.

This morning, my companion got a call that a member of the community was dead and went to go visit her room-mate. Deborah Dean is the founding director of Engendered Species in Salt Lake City, Utah. The room-mate had found her friend, Donielle, dead from a gunshot wound inflicted to the head when she returned home yesterday morning.

The reason I am telling you this story is that I don't want it repeated.

Many people here in Salt Lake City will miss Donielle. She was active in the Catholic Church, Knights of Columbus and Republican Party. She was also an active member of Engendered Species, a local support group founded by Deborah. She was going to host the group's 4th of July party tomorrow at her place. Instead, the community has been left shocked.

Only she knew the real reason why she made this tragic decision. As many of us realize at some point in our life, once we start letting ourselves free, it is like an addiction. We can't get enough. Just like alcoholics, it is an addiction that is hard-wired into our brains. Unlike alcoholics, however, the real danger lies not in giving in to that desire, but suppressing it. A caged lion, once it has tasted the open air has an addiction for freedom. How so can we not let ourselves become whole-spirited people contributing to make the world a better place? The giving in to the addiction of the journey is an edifying experience that makes us stronger. It's an addiction to being healthy.

Donielle also lost her job. Losing one's employment brings with it many stresses, such as the struggle to pay the bills and the loss of one's identity. As people in transition we must transcend these and work together. At one point when I was laid off, a friend who was still in the closet suggested I submit my resume to her place of work, and I ultimately did—but after she had temporarily moved to another state. Building and using a social network, we can help keep our sisters and brothers employed, and housed in between jobs. We can pass the torch from one to another to keep our home-fires burning.

There were many who have given her support, and that support has kept her with us longer than it would have been had it not occurred.

I am so proud of Transcenders Global Social Support Network, Wasatch Trangender Front and Engendered Species for what they are doing in the community.

I am seeing both TGSSN and WTF coming alive in their memberships with people posting what's on their minds and getting immediate support. Keep doing it. By helping others over the rough spots, you are building each other up and developing friendships that will last a lifetime.

If you have something that you need to say, please keep sharing. And if you feel moved by what someone else has posted, please keep responding.

This is our community, and I am so proud of it.

In a couple of weeks, I plan to start serious discussions in the Salt Lake City area of how we can reach out to find and support others in our community who need it.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophia Jean Hawes

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Youtube Videostar

Are you a Java Developer with at least two years experience? Are you looking for a great company to ply your skills? O.co wants you. Act now, because positions are limited.

The day after I returned to work, Tuesday, the 21st, there was a message in my inbox looking for Java developers to help with a video for recruiting. After thinking about it, I replied, not knowing if I would be granted any lines at all; but knowing that I did my part. You can never succeed without trying.

So that Wednesday, the day I had originally planned to return to work,  I did my makeup and hair to the best of my ability and showed up for the shoot between 11 am and 12 pm. We were given some example lines to stir what we wanted to talk about, and I let everyone else be taken off one-by-one until I was the last one to have a turn. I had listened to the people coming out, learned that the video was expected to be extemporaneous and had worked out what I wanted to talk about before I went in, inflections and all.

When they came for me, they announced that they had "saved the best for last." I put my paper down with the bullet points on it, and stepped on the pieces of the tape outlined on the floor while they adjusted the camera. Then I was asked to talk about Java as a unified experience. Like modeling, I was told to stand in a certain location, hold my head at certain angle and look in a certain spot. After each retake because my focus drifted, I would involuntarily back off the markers and had to be prompted to step back on. Once I did that line, I was asked if there was anything else I wanted to add. I looked at my paper, and we repeated the process again for my next two lines. When we were done, I went out on a team lunch celebrating a recent release.

On Wednesday, I heard a voice pass my cubicle, saying "Good Job on the Widea, Sophia." At least, I thought they said "Widea." My coworker asked me if I had heard my director tell me I did a good job on the video. I couldn't figure what he meant. So I did a Google video search for "overstock java" and was floored when I watched it. Not only was I in it, I was featured.



The next day I was flying high as a kite, despite experiencing menarche in the morning (I almost totally freaked out at that); that is, until some rather deprecatory comments were posted that moved me to tears. Once I had composed myself enough to at least leave, one of my coworkers responded by posting a defense and lambasting the cruelty. Another coworker, the one that made and posted the video, disabled commenting on it. That is total acceptance.

In addition, the CEO of the company would have had to approve the video. Overall, this can't hurt my chances at a shot at a promotion in the next few months.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I Chose Dr. Suporn, The Flight Back and Return to Work

I found Dr. Suporn by doing a Google query for best SRS surgeon. I landed on a forum page where someone claimed he was the best in the world, and there was a lot of concurrence. I found nothing but good reviews. The alternative in my mind was Dr. Marci Bowers, having had the operation herself and having had good reviews from members of Dr. Rita Cotterly's group who had the surgery done by her.

Both surgeons have a web site. And I found out as much as I could about them from what was available. I then emailed Dr. Bowers to find out what she would do if she came across endometrial tissue in the operation. I never received a reply.

What I liked about Dr. Suporn's process is that it was invented with pseudo-hermaphrodites in mind, primarily people who suffered from micro-penis. I really like the concept of an all-in-one procedure, the reported resulting depth and guarantee of retaining sensitivity. I also noticed the attitude toward optimal results evident in recommending that patients do not have scrotal electrolysis done as it reduces the stretchability of what will be the new vaginal wall.

When I emailed Dr. Suporn's clinic to find out what he would do in the event that he found endometrial tissue, I was informed that he would work around it, since he had operated on male presenting intersex people before.

I was very pleased at the response, the fact that the total cost would be less expensive and that I would be visiting Thailand to get it done. My father was stationed in Thailand right after I was born during the early part of the Vietnam conflict and I had married a woman from Laos, who I had planned to take with me. I have always wanted to visit Thailand.

On the flight back to the United States, I had failed to use the airline letter that The Suporn Clinic had given me. When I had scanned it, all I saw was a wheelchair request, and was holding on til I needed it. I was seated in a very cramped seat for 13 hours from China to Los Angeles aboard China Southern Airlines. When I got home and did my first dilation, I had to drop to the smallest dilator because my vagina was badly cramped. It was so bad during the flight that I couldn't even feel the need to pee until it was practically too late. When I opened the letter again, I noticed it also had a request to assign comfortable seating, which I had failed to use.

I started work at the office again last Monday. I was going to return on Wednesday, but I had a network connection problem that I had to go in to remedy. Once everyone had warmly welcomed me back, it felt silly to work remotely for the next day and a half, so I didn't. The first week, I was still bringing my cushion in to work with me because of the swelling; but the swelling is pretty much gone now.

I am six weeks, almost seven weeks, post op. I was able to enjoy a warm salt bath after a month and start swimming again last week. I have been in the apartment pool three times already since Wednesday. I didn't take advantage of it today, because I suspect I am in estrogen overload.

When last year I asked my endocrinologist in Lexington, Kentucky if I should reduce my hormones after surgery, she said it wasn't necessary. I was already on a fairly low dose, and I should have been fine until my August checkup. Before surgery, I would suffer PMS 4 days after my estrogen shot. After surgery, it was more like 11 days, more in line with a natural female cycle. Being a little foolish, I took my third estrogen shot on schedule, right as the PMS was subsiding. It was the point at which I would have had menses. The result was that I went into severe PMS cramping, light-headedness, and increased appetite (nutritional and sexual) through today so far. Seven days of PMS.

I have a referral in to see an endocrinologist locally, but that may take another week to get to scheduling. I have an appointment with an Ob/Gyn set for August 3rd, and my primary care physician, while at first saying she didn't know how to do it, finally ordered an estrogen count I requested done, while saying she can't control or manage it. I need a new primary care physician. The lab results come back in a couple of days.

So, meanwhile, I am going to back off to quad-weekly injections from bi-weekly, until I get direction from the gynecologist or the endocrinologist. Good news is that it will save me money. Bad news is that I have to starve the estrogen out, and that will take a couple of weeks and skipping the next injection on July 9 and waiting until the 23rd.

That's about it.
Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

Father's Day and Mother's Day can be very difficult for many transgendered people--especially trans-parents. They are days when your children are expected to identify a parent as either a mother or a father. In essence, it is a day, that expected gender roles are celebrated, and because they don't feel like either, they feel left out.

For instance, being celebrated on Mother's Day seems to be wrong to me because I did not carry my children for 9 months, nor did I actually give birth to them. Father's day is a bit problematic because it holds a gender expectation with it.

In addition, the refusal to honor a trans-parent on Mother's Day or Father's Day by one's children can be their way of punishing you for failing to live up to their expectations.

But before I had sexual reassignment surgery, before I transitioned, before I even started taking hormones or seeing a therapist, I fathered two beautiful, intelligent and compassionate daughters. While I would have willingly carried and given birth to them myself, it was not physiologically possible. But once they were born, I had the opportunity to try to nurture them as best I could.

When my oldest daughter was born in late October, the day after my father's birthday, and I had cut the umbilical, they took her to the triage table where they could check her vitals, and right before they put they antibiotic in her eyes, I saw her tracking me from across the room with them. Then she was so mad when the cream was applied to her eyelids. We were bonded.

On Father's Day, 2003, the day before Summer started, I was busy attending the birth of my youngest daughter. After she was born and in the crib, she looked up at me, and because of her intense curiosity of my eyes, her left hand flung up, trying to touch them. I sometimes joke that she tried to claw my eyes out when she was born. In fact, our eyes were not safe around her for a couple of years. Her birthday's tomorrow, and she already has her gift, a Dell laptop computer.

When I started my transition, it must have been incredibly rough on them, as my oldest daughter was 9 and her sister was 3. To see a parent suddenly change gender over the next four years, while having to leave them to continue to make a living is a lot for children to absorb. They feel most comfortable calling me Dad, even though it doesn't fit society's gender definition anymore, and I feel honored by it.

So it absolutely made my day this morning to see a text message showing how much they've come to accept having a female father:

Happy Father's Day from me and Missy! We love you!

It's not easy being a remote female father to two young, beautiful and compassionate girls. We have had our moments over the past couple of years, but I remain always ready to be there for them, telling them every night I love them, no matter what; and listening.

I love them both and am so proud they were able to come through this at such a young age.

Wishing all the parent's out there a wonderful Parent's Day,
Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fade to Stealth

I was just reading an article from a couple of weeks ago about someone severing their ties after surgery, because they were going stealth.

I'm not going to be that way, and here's why. There are a lot of people who look up to you and need guidance on their journey. Imagine walking into a support group, hoping to speak to someone about the next complications in your transition, and find that the people who have that knowledge have gone stealth, not responding to the trans community, leaving you a big sister, when you need one of your own. It happened to me, and it happened to a lot of people.

I did announce last week that the adult support group meeting I attended would probably be my last, because I am not in a position where I am needing emotional support. I have wonderful friends in the trans community, the LGBT community, and outside of it--most aware of my past, even though to practically all, they know me first as a woman.

I also don't feel like doing a lot of advocacy right now. I want to dance.

But at the same time, I am not severing my connections to the trans community. I will remain a Big Sister through the online support organization I have put together and maintain my friendships with the friends I already have. Indeed, Transcenders Global Social Support Network now has 51 members on FaceBook, and it serves a vital need that I refuse to abandon.

But meanwhile, in the rest of my life, for the time being, until something propels me into the spotlight, I am fading into stealth. There are fewer reasons to tell people about the way I was born, and I don't want it to define me. For instance, I no longer have to ask Human Resources at work whether the health policy covers SRS or how I will be able to complete it when I don't have enough paid-time-off to draw on. I'm done. Now I will just pursue what challenges me and makes me happy.

And I will seek support where it will be the most beneficial. There's an intersex support group meeting held in Ogden every month. I plan to be there.

Fading to Stealth,
Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Are You Sure You're Not Both?

"Are you sure you're not both?" my mother asked when I came out to her four years ago after a few months of counseling and soul-searching. I thought she meant bi-gendered, and I answered that, no, I definitely feel that I am a woman.

But it was the fact that I had lost touch over the years with myself that when I walked into the counselor's office, it was because I couldn't discern a gender, either male or female. Part of me knew I was male, but something deeper inside made me crave to be female, that I needed to be a woman. In reality, I was part male, not wholly male, and part female, and accident of my birth. It's just the instinctual emotions, those that made me happy ran female.

My Mom explained that she meant having both male and female parts, intersex. I was pretty sure I wasn't born intersex. She told me about how they read about the intersex condition before I was born, and decided that if it should happen to me, they would have waited until I was old enough to decide what gender I wanted to be. It should have been diagnosed at birth or a later age if that was the condition, and I asserted to her, that only my mind was different. In fact, it was when I started the HRT treatment that I really began to tap into myself as a woman.

But I had a problem. Despite everything else, I had a testicle that wouldn't stay put. It went abdominal 3 times the week before my surgery, and when I inject estrogen, a few days later I get cramps on the same side.

So it's with no surprise that when I woke from my surgery, I finally felt whole. It was three and a half weeks later that I was presented with a real look at myself.

On May 7th, I took a very long series of flights from Salt Lake City, Utah to Bangkok, Thailand, where I was met by one of the nurses from Dr. Suporn's clinic. On the ride to the hotel, I discussed my strange issues while she took notes. She told me also about the fighting with Cambodia after I had told her about my father. My father had come to Thailand right after I was born. Almost 46 years later, I returned to be reborn.

Once I got to the hotel, I was told to come to the clinic about 2:30 that afternoon. There they had me fill out forms, draw pictures and read an instruction manual. One of the nurses brought over a wreath of really sweet smelling flowers and a red silk box that held my dilators. She explained the use of each one, and my anxiety began. Drawing a person from head-to-toe triggered an anxiety of being unable to draw a complete person without them looking deformed in some way, and then reading what I was going to have to do for the rest of my life to maintain my vagina almost put me over the edge.

The psychiatrist came over and began an interview with me while we waited my turn. He asked about my drawings and discussed how I was handling my separation and divorce. Eventually, he was interrupted for my turn to see Dr. Suporn.

Looking a little like Jackie Chan, he had me disrobe from the waist down to see what he had to work with and then showed me slides of his procedure. It didn't seem to phase him about my undescended testicle until I told him it had made its journey three times this week. At that point, he told me to remind him on the operating table.

I was then told by the nurses to be ready to go to the hospital by noon the next day, the 10th. I was so exhausted by the trip that I spent the night just sleeping, got my free breakfast in the morning and packed. I kept bunny out of my bag, so I could hold her. The only time I have ever held her in public. I figured that this was a great occasion, as she helped with my anxiety.

At the hospital, I had my blood drawn, my breasts x-rayed, blood pressure taken and an EKG and echocardiogram done by a cardiologist that Dr. Suporn consulted for me. My leaky valve? It's mitral valve prolapse, and promised not to be a problem during surgery.

After I returned to my room, I was visited by the psychiatrist, the anesthesiologist and the cardiologist. I only had a few hours until it I was directed out of my clothes and into the hospital clothes and then given a genital shave with a straight razor and a brutal enema. That was 9 pm.

In the morning, at 6:30 am, I moved over to my surgical gurney, Bunny was placed in my arms and I was wheeled down to the operating theater. The anesthesiologist said hi to me from behind her mask, and I was moved over to the operating table where, Bunny was lifted out of my arms, my arms stretched to the sides and the anesthesia drip was connected to the stint on the back of my left hand. My eyelids fluttered a couple of times. I closed my eyes for just a moment, immediately opening them to make sure I really fell asleep and heard the words, "You're operation was a success," while the gurney was moving. I did a mental probe down to my genital area, felt the bandages and the absence of my testicles and knew everything was the way it was supposed to be.

I had to spend the next 5 days in bed, turning from side-to-side with a pillow beneath my legs. On the second day, I was to also lift my legs every couple of hours to avoid deep vein thrombosis. On the 5th day, the doctor removed the bandages and one of the catheters. It was two days later, after the doctor removed the packing from my vagina and the catheter from my urethra that I was finally allowed to bathe. The urethra repair by the doctors when I was 9, was completely undone. When I stood, I was thankful for my belly dance posture that Kelly had drilled into me, because standing back on my heels instead of up on my toes would have had me face flat on the floor.

I drank bottle after bottle of water, until I could pee, and they let me go to the hotel. The following day as I did my dilation, I realized that deep, empty emotional feeling I had experienced 4 years previously was actually the spot in my mind for mapping to the vaginal canal. I was and am completely a woman.

The next 2 1/2 weeks I had checkups daily with the nurses and checkups twice a week with Dr. Suporn. I learned to carry a cushion around every where I went and took anti-inflammation pills with every meal for the swelling. Right before I left, on my last appointment and after my last checkup, Dr. Suporn asked if I would like to see the pictures.

This was the moment of final truth. Either I had been right about having an undiagnosed intersex condition, or I had been having severe illusions. It didn't really matter anymore. I braced myself for the revelation.

There were a few shots of his examination from before he began cutting, and when he said, "They're gone," he was referring to a picture of the gonads laid out with the scrotum cut open, I noticed immediately that there was a difference between the two. Farther in the process, I saw what arrested my eyes. I was much worse than I had thought. While my working side had been simple muscle tissue, the left side looked like a tendon on the inside with creamy white spongy tissue attached to the outside. There wasn't just a single hole. There were at least two. I was a pseudo-hermaphrodite, and I wasn't crazy. I was just undiagnosed. It's really hard to argue with a photograph.

Dr. Suporn worked around the tissue. The vaginal canal is sealed, but if the endometrial tissue is producing menses blood, it is coming from the inner labia housing the clitoris and urethra. I am going to have to be very clear with my primary care physician to make her understand that I am and will always be different.

According to the World Health Organization, I am no longer transsexual; but I will remain intersex.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Recuperating

The valley is beautiful. I'm working from home until next Wednesday (the 22nd) to finish off my 6 week recuperation. It has it's challenges. But at 4, when I knock off, I'm home.
 
There's still some discomfort when sitting, and I'm hoping by next Wednesday I won't have to drag my cushion around with me. Other than the slight swelling, and having finished all my anti-inflammatories, I am healing quite well.
 
I am so jealous of the people at the swimming pool. I still have to wait another week before I can immerse myself in one.
 
I've planted a few chili pepper seeds and some petunias that I picked up at WalMart. I can't resist stepping outside to my east-ward facing front balcony to visit them about every hour or so. I guess I'll miss that opportunity when I start back at the office.
 
Last night I saw my second movie since I've been back. Maybe I'll splurge and order a pizza delivered today.
 
Hugs,
Sophia

Monday, June 6, 2011

Back in the USA

Just to let everyone know that I am back in Salt Lake City from my "visit" to Dr. Suporn. He is worth every penny. Pictures from my surgery show the massive difference between my cryptorchid gonad and the other. The normal one had bumps all over it, while my problematic one was creamy white and shaped like a very smooth, yet smaller egg. Behind the creamy white egg was not muscular tissue, like on the right side, but a large amount of spongy white tissue with a couple of very narrow openings. I suspect it is endometrial tissue. Anyway, it doesn't look as if the doctor removed the differing tissue, but just worked on around it. 

I asked the nurse before I left how often someone like me, with the differing tissue, is operated on by Dr. Suporn. She told me there have been a few, but it is not very frequent.

Having already done the name change last year, updating my sex with the Social Security Administration was a piece of cake. When my turn came, I simply told them I needed my gender corrected and presented the letter signed by Dr. Suporn. Tomorrow, I'm taking my lunch break to transfer my driver's license to Utah, so I will have a clean record in their database with only a single name and gender.

Birth certificate is a bit of a pain, since I was born in Maine. The directive asks for a certified copy of my SRS documentation and I only have a sort-of copy. What I have is a consulate letter that certifies Dr. Suporn attached to one of the copies of the other letter. I am trying to get in direct contact with the vital statistics office and the person who is going to handle my change, but they rarely answer the phone and I have yet to get through.

Meanwhile, I contacted the medical ombudsman that the company I work for hired to let her know I need to start the claims process and quite potentially the appeal process with my insurance company. She has responded that she will do what she can to help and get back with me by tomorrow, if not sooner.

So, that's about it. My surgery was May 11. I got back yesterday in time for the Pride Parade in downtown Salt Lake City and am working remotely from home until the 22nd, the end of the recommended 6-week recuperation time before returning to work.

Dilations are 3 times a day for the next couple of months, and then they gradually taper off until it's once every two weeks to check for depth after a year. In two more months I can start the private intense belly dance lessons I have lined up.

It's good to return home, to my friends, my work and my life in general.

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Friday, April 29, 2011

Private Lesson

I will be staying at the Chon Inter Hotel in Chonburi. They have Wi-Fi in the lobby and the rooms. It's probably not quite the dive you were expecting ;)

A friend had a great idea to keep a journal. I'll make sure to pick a blank one up on Sunday after church.

I just finished my fundamentals of belly dancing course on Tuesday and found someone to take me under her wing to see to it that I get continuing classes. She is trying to encourage my last instructor to take me one-on-one, but if my last instructor doesn't, Kitty--who says she feels a mother/daughter bond with me--will give me the lessons herself. In fact, I had a private lesson with her on Wednesday, and am looking forward to her next class next week before I leave. Everyone is encouraging me to also sign up for the basic performing class at Thia's school. I spoke with Thia over the phone, and she is anxious to get me started when I heal.

Kitty had an intersex friend who took her own life a few years back. I know, because I saw that she had friended a trans-advocacy organization and I was curious. Her friend, Candy, apparently was a belly dancer and a very good stripper. Apparently, Candy left behind quite a supportive wake, as this is the third time I have heard of her in the last few weeks. I felt comfortable at that point coming out to Kitty about my own intersex conditions; and she responded by telling me, "I wondered." One of the things people notice about me when they find out is that it explains my barely noticeable Adam's apple.

Saturday, I'm going to an annual belly-dancer fundraiser for birds, named, appropriately enough, Bellies for Birdies. Sunday, I'm having my send-off, and Sophia Featherwind, the belly dancer, will have action shots taken for TransAction calendar. Obviously, I'm not using my real last name, and my eyes will be heavily made up.

And then the rest of the events preparing for my trip. I cant' believe that in just over a week it will be over and I'll have a new rebirthday, May 11, 2011.

Isn't it appropriate that it's falling on the heals of Easter, symbolic of resurrection and new beginnings, and May Day, the celebration of the joining of male and female?

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Last Lesson

Tuesday night was the last of our belly dancing lessons. After warming up we divided into groups, drilling our individual choreographies a few times. Then we were assigned 15 minutes to come up movements for the last 16 counts of a very fast riff. Our group decided to swap the front and back groups in the first four beats while doing shoulder shimmies, and then spin into a tight group in the next four beats. In the last eight counts we touch step strike a clustered pose, with me at the front, leaning out to expose the rest of the group. Next Tuesday is the final.

I have less than 3 weeks now until surgery, and I have to say I am getting really nervous; especially when people are starting to read me while showing their encouragement. I am really, really needing some cuddling time.

I am starting to assess my situation with regards to my goal of not being alone on Christmas this year. Neither of my interests seem to have that potential. One only feels courageous enough at his work to tell me how he feels, and the other is off on a bicycle trip across the state of Utah with someone they have been calling spouse for the last 14 years. Odds are, I'll be alone again for Christmas.


I'm struggling not to end this entry on such a negative note, but have no clue what to say or even think at this point, other than:

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean

Sunday, April 17, 2011

You Really Are Unique

Last Sunday, during meditation, I closed my eyes and tried to open myself to the divine. What I saw was a cerulean blue sky, crowded with fluffy cumulus clouds and, leaning over from the breast up, what could only be the feminine divine. As she reached her hand down to mine, I reached up to touch hers with mine. When our fingertips touched, I knew she was signaling an inside turn. God was leading me to dance.

And so I have danced. This week, I have spent over an hour-and-a-half running through my choreography, losing weight in the process. I am now down to 190 pounds and feeling good. On Tuesday, our group decided what moves we are going to add to the first 16 beats and proceeded to practice them while we drilled the entire choreography over and over again, sweat streaming down my body. Because the class stayed late, many of the girls left without a cool-down, and feeling that maybe we wouldn't be having one, I started to leave, too--until I noticed that the instructor went into cool-down routine. I joined the four other girls as we stretched our warmed up joints out. There are only two class periods left: one for the final drill, and one for the final assessment.

I took Deborah to a showing of Two-Spirits  at The Tower this week, and she took me to see Connected at Westminster College where I have my Belly Dance class. Both movies were well done and are a must to see when they come out on PBS.

Thursday evening I was asked if I can help someone do their makeup. I was a bit shocked, since it took me three makeovers to get mine right. The most I can do is show her the way I do mine to get her started; unlike the way I was snubbed when I asked for similar help in San Fransisco in 2007.

Deborah's off on her bicycle trip across the state of Utah for the next couple of weeks with Aere. I will miss her.

Last night, I went with Robin to support her while she supported her boyfriend. The venue was at a VFW out near a copper mine in Magma. The feel was incredibly redneck and I felt very anxious just stepping out of my car on the way to the bar. The high-heels I was wearing clacked noisily on the pavement, because the left heel was down to the nail. I'll miss that pair. It was the first pair of heels I ever bought, when I came out in San Francisco a few years ago. As I walked into the club, I was greeted by a couple of older vets, and one of them--Fred--said, "God, she's beautiful," as I walked toward my friend at the bar. Robin went to talk to him later and he kept asking her, "Who's your tall girlfriend? I like tall women." Later in the evening, Robin and I were accosted by a group of vets who were trying out all kinds of flirtatious come-on lines. At one point, one of the gentleman, shaking my limp hand, said, "You've got a grip." Knowing not to go there, I kept my silence.

The woman, Sandra, who designed my costume came over today to help me repair the bra and to check on me. When she arrived, I was near the end of my practice, struggling to get a twelfth time through the routine without a serious error and, of course, was drenched in sweat. When I told her what I was just doing, she said, "Let's see it." So, miraculously, I finally made it through the 12th repetition. I was elated when she said the words, "Much better." Of course, I had already come out to her a couple of weeks ago.  She had more questions, trying to understand my sexuality, especially wondering why I didn't let Deborah express her male side. Once I explained that it was because Deborah was doing it knowing I preferred women, we pressed our conversation further.

Sandra is eager to help me when I get back from Thailand. She lives just down the street. When I invited her to my Send-Off in two weeks, she begged me to remind her the day before. A belly dancer herself, she was curious. As she was leaving my place, she asked, "Are there any more like you?"

"What do you mean?"

"That like to dance [meaning belly dancing]."

"Not that I know of."

"You really are unique."

Hugs and God Bless,
Sophie Jean