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Journal: Happy Birthday!

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

I suppose I should have said something about why I went four months or so without a journal entry. But what can I say? In many ways, things are very difficult right now, and I'm facing new challenges I don't know how to respond to. This tends to leave me a little down, and I decided I didn't want to write a long succession of depressing journal entries... so I didn't.

But today I have something good to write about. Something that makes me very happy.

He's coming to visit again. Today. Probably in three hours or so.

And it's his birthday, too!

I didn't even ask him to come see me for his birthday... I just said that it would be nice to see him again sometime soon and he said he could come for his birthday. He volunteered. He *chose* to spend his birthday with me.

That makes me feel very special.

I'm not good at birthdays, but I've tried to do a few things to show him how special he is to me. There's a big "Happy Birthday" sign. And streamers. And balloons. Lots of balloons. And a cake I baked last night that still needs to be decorated.

I hope he likes everything.

But it's not just that it's his birthday that makes the whole thing special.

We've now been dating for a year. Well, two weeks short of a year, give or take a bit.

For some of you, this probably doesn't sound like much; you may have dated someone for a year in grade school!

But a year ago today, I'd never even been on a date. Never held hands. Never been kissed.

And once I figured out the whole alien thing and realized some of the rather frightening implications, I figured that I would never experience that side of life.

And then we met online, and soon after he came to visit. We had agreed in advance that it would be a friends only sort of thing, because he really couldn't deal with the whole alien thing. But then we had dinner, and saw a movie, and went to the zoo the next day, and by the time he left we were both rather surprised that things had gone so well, and that we had enjoyed being together more than we had expected.

So I invited him back a few weeks later... and we've been dating ever since.

The alien thing never goes away, and neither one of us are thrilled by it... but somehow we manage.

We don't really talk about "our relationship". He's very shy, and has a hard time talking about such things. I'm afraid I will mess the whole thing up by talking about my feelings too much, and accidentally put too much pressure on him. So mostly, we email a lot, share the mundane details of our lives with one another, and periodically get together and just enjoy being together.

I think one of the things I like about spending time with him is that it forces me to focus on the here and now, and not worry so much about my oh-so-uncertain future.

I haven't talked much about our relationship here, mostly because this is all new for me and I'm still very uncertain how to draw the line between things I should share and things that are best kept private. But... he's a big part of my life, now. Even when Grandma died, I managed to email him every day.

So, what will we do on this visit? Well, we're going out for pizza tonight. Tomorrow we will probably go to Sea World again. This time I'm going to try to remember to go see the penguins. And we may go see a movie. And we'll certainly watch DVD's. I asked him to bring The Muppet Show again.

Mostly, we'll just enjoy each other's company.

And I will feel very special.

Thank you, sweetie... spending time with you has made this the best year of my life. Sometimes, through all the trials and the tears of my alien journey, I forget that. But every time you come to vist, I remember again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be someone I thought I could never be, and to experience both wonderful and ordinary things that seemed out of my reach.

And Happy Birthday! :-)

Now I have to dry my hair and get that darn cake decorated!

User Journal

Journal: Goodbye, Grandma. I Wish I'd Known You.

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Well, room 209 is sure different from room 131!

209 is on the second floor, which isn't really surprising. Since I brought about twice as much crap as last time, it was really almost inevitable that I'd have to drag it all across the parking lot and up a flight of stairs. 131 was on the first floor, and the whole time I was there, I managed to park less than six feet from my car.

209 has a pair of double beds; 131 had a single king size bed and a comfy chair. I miss the chair. 209 has a desk-like table next to the ethernet port.

The wireless doesn't work in 209, either. But at least this time I knew enough to bring my own ethernet cable.

131 had a toilet that would sometimes run forever; the float valve needed to be adjusted a bit but I didn't have a screwdriver. In 209, the toilet is fine, but the bathroom fan is very noisy. I still don't have a screwdriver, but I wouldn't try to fiddle with it anyway. The toilet in 131 only needed about a quarter-turn of a screw.

One of my neighbors has their tv on very loud. I should probably add earplugs to my travel kit. 131 was at the end of the building and noise didn't seem to be a problem.

But other than those little differences, last week's hotel room and this week's hotel room are remarkably identical.

Isn't that terribly exciting?

Oh, and it's very windy here. Very windy. Rip down the trees windy. But it's been worse; on one of my visits some years ago, they had about three dozen telephone poles snap in the middle from the wind. Actually, Dad and I drove up in that storm! It didn't seem so bad in the truck, but when I got out I immediately noticed that it was difficult to remain standing.

I hope the trees and telephone poles will be okay.

* * * * *

Grandma died early Tuesday morning. Tuesday night family started arriving. Thursday at 2 was the "viewing", to give the family members that didn't make it in time a chance to say goodbye to her. It was... difficult.

No, not because of Grandma.

I remembered the mortuary from when Mom died. While they got Grandma ready for us, we waited in the conference room where Dad and I made the arrangements for Mom. Then we went into the casket showroom where we picked out Mom's coffin. That was where they had Grandma. (Someone else was already in their chapel.)

The place brought back a lot of memories. Sitting across the table from the mortician, talking about the services, the options, and the burial plots they had available. Dad picked out Mom's coffin; when I asked him why he had chosen that particular one, he said that he and Mom had been together for a long time and he thought that was the one she would have liked.

That time, the showroom had been empty, except for my former self, Dad, and a whole bunch of shiny empty coffins. This time, there were eight more people in the room, seven standing, and one wheeled in on a gurney, pale and fresh from the fridge, and covered with a blanket.

The old woman they showed us in the showroom looked about as much like Grandma as the old woman in the bed did... which is to say, not much at all.

Honestly, it seemed as though someone probably could have put some other random grandmother-ish person in her place at any point in this whole dying-dying-dead process, and I'm not entirely sure I would have been able to tell, unless the other person was radically different. I would easily have remembered, for instance, that Grandma had never been Chinese. Or male.

I've thought about this puzzle on and off for the last couple of weeks, and one strange conclusion I reached is that I had never really seen Grandma in a horizontal position before!

Also, Grandma smiled a lot. And was huggable. And always seemed to have something nice to say, even after she lost most of her marbles.

The old woman in the bed wasn't like that. She just sort of laid there. She couldn't talk, but would occasionally let out some monosyllabic noises: "Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh." "Ah. Ah. Ah. Ah." No conversation and little or no awareness of what was going on around her. Mostly, she stared into space, but occasionally there seemed to be a little bit of eye contact.

I think she looked at me for the last time last week after I said, "I love you, Grandma."

That was all she had left. The last marble she had to give me, so to speak. I'm very happy I was there to receive it.

The old woman on the gurney didn't have anything left to give us, except closure. Which I suppose is a gift too.

Seeing her lying there wasn't particularly painful for me.

Watching my family cry was rather painful, though.

* * * * *

I've found it hard to grieve for Grandma.

A friend at work ran into me in the ladies' room earlier this week and asked about Grandma, and she said that she had lost her mother in much the same way (Alzheimer's or something similar) and that she had difficulty grieving, too.

The hardest part about losing a loved one this way is that they don't die... they just sort of drift away. As the mind goes, a lot of what made the person special seems to go along with it. By the time the body dies, the mind has been gone for a while, and there's just less to miss, in recent memories, anyway.

This has been especially problematic for me.

Former Self loved his Grandma, because... well, because of course he loved his Grandmother. That's what you're supposed to *do* with a Grandma, silly! You love her!

His love for her was just that, the default, expected affection of a child for his Grandma.

His issues and problems made any deeper relationship very difficult to achieve... his world was very small, and like everyone else, Grandma didn't have much of a place in that world... and for this reason, he always felt a little awkward around his Grandma.

Once we figured out his issues, and he became me, I was finally capable of having a deeper relationship with Grandma... but by then, her mind was mostly gone, and she was no longer capable of the deeper relationship that Sarah would have loved to explore.

The old woman who died was, in a very real sense, a stranger to me. A stranger I remember loving, but a stranger nonetheless.

My grief is more about the loss of an opportunity to have a relationship with a person I loved. I wish I'd been able to get to know her. I wish she'd been able to get to know me.

I think we would have gotten along just wonderfully. Actually, I'm sure of it, because she got along wonderfully with pretty much everyone. And she was loved by everyone. Everyone.

Grandma used to work in a hospital in Dallas, for instance. She retired and moved out here about fifteen years ago.

Next week, there will be another memorial service for her, at the hospital in Dallas.

When I think about how wonderful this Grandma must have been, so wonderful that even after sixteen years her friends and former coworkers will gather to celebrate her memory... I do start to cry.

I've certainly lost someone special.

* * * * *

Today was the "go through Grandma's stuff and pick out what you want" day.

I spent the day writing code on my laptop.

The process of decommissioning a life is something that turns out to be very painful for me. I simply couldn't bear to go into the living room with everyone else and sort through the stuff.

In part, I couldn't figure out my place in the social structure. She was something of a stranger to me... so where do I fit into this subtle process of allocating her stuff? She was my Grandma, but she was my Aunt and Uncle's Mom, too! And the other cousins knew her better. Heck, everyone knew her better than me! What of hers do I even want? I had no idea.

Finally, I talked to my Aunt and explained to her that the situation was very difficult for me and asked her to save a few pictures for me. She went through them all again and was picking out a set for me, I think. I'll probably get those tomorrow.

She did had me one picture today... a small black and white photo of a little girl.

My Mom.

And Dad gave me Mom's baby book.

I haven't been brave enough to look through it yet.

And some pictures that Mom had sent Grandma when we lived in Japan. Pictures from a Christmas morning in the late 1970's. And pictures of the Kintai Bridge, covered in snow. Just snapshots. But more memories.

After all the aunts and uncles and cousins left for the day, I took a deep breath and went through the box that I was told was for the trash.

Some pictures... and cards people had sent Grandma. Birthday cards. Christmas cards. Pictures of other people's grandchildren. Pictures of random old people I didn't recognize.

I was somehow very frightened to ask if anyone would mind if I kept the trash that nobody else wanted. I guess somehow I was afraid that they would say, no, nobody wants that, so we need to throw it all away.

Somehow I managed to leave with quite a lot of "trash". I tried to leave all of it in the car tonight, but I couldn't; I had to drag everything up the stairs to the hotel room and re-pack it to make sure it was all safe and secure. I was terrified that some of it would blow away in the wind. After a little repacking, it turned out to be two tidy boxes of stuff.

Two boxes of clues to who this Grandma person was. Two boxes to help me understand who it is that I've lost.

* * * * *

When I was here last week, I spent some time sorting some of Grandma's papers. Mostly old bills and that sort of thing. I don't know why, but I really enjoy classifying and sorting things into neat piles.

I came across some interesting little bits, too. One piece of fairly recent junk mail read:

"Dear Mary, Congratulations! You're on your way to a more informed, more powerful, more in-charge way of life with LADIES' HOME JOURNAL!"

I thought about the old woman dying in the next room, and the notion of offering her such a magazine subscription at this particular point in her life made me giggle.

I found a calendar that had some comments written on it, apparently from one of her caregivers. They were all like this:

"August 21, 2005: Shower. Shampoo. Great Mood! :-)"

"September 15, 2005: Shower + Shampoo. Great mood. Visiting Viola :-)"

"December 8, 2005: Shower shampoo not Happy Hit Me! :-("

"December 29, 2005: Shower, Shampoo, Great, great mood :-) "

Even with most of her mind gone, she was still usually in a good mood! That made me smile. I wonder what happened on December 8? Oh well, everyone's entitled to have a bad day now and then!

I also came across her birth certificate. Her middle name was Isabelle. I didn't know that. It made me cry. I didn't even know her whole name.

* * * * *

The memorial service was at 4pm on Thursday, after the viewing. The pastor, a friend of Dad's, came over to the house, and we had a little service in the living room.

He's the same guy that married Dad and Stepmom three and a half years ago.

And the same guy that helped us say goodbye to Mom seven years ago.

More memories.

And, in a strange twist of fate, the pastor also happened to grow up in the same small town in Illinois that Mom, Aunt, and Uncle grew up in!

It was a nice service. A little prayer. No preachy stuff.

Lots of people chiming in with memories of Grandma. Or, for some of them, Mom.

I learned a lot about her. She sounded like a wonderful person. She was always the peacemaker in the family. Dad told stories about dating my Mom, and dealing with her parents. She was close to her sisters. One of them called her "Bill" because when she was little she couldn't pronounce "Mary Isabelle". It remained a running joke for the rest of their lives.

Dad read some emails from family members that were unable to attend. They were long and very thoughtful, and made us all smile or even laugh out loud.

I could only remember one funny story about Grandma, and I wasn't brave enough to tell it.

For many years, we ordered Chinese food for my birthday, year after year. One year one of the dishes we ordered was Egg Foo Yung, and as we were unpacking the takeout boxes, I asked her, "Grandma, what is Egg Foo Yung?"

"This is Egg Foo Yung!" She pointed to the styrofoam container.

"No, I mean, what ingredients are in it? What's it made of?"

"Oh, some eggs," she said, "and a little bit of foo..."

We both laughed.

To this day, I still don't know what Egg Foo Yung is... I could look it up, but a part of me doesn't really want to know, now. Egg Foo Yung is made of fond memories of a Grandmother I never had the privilege to get to know.

Oh, and apparently, Dad neglected to tell his friend the pastor that I'm an alien... but when Dad introduced me to him as Sarah, he didn't bat an eye. I'll bet he's been a pastor for a loooong time, and I hope he tells *that* story at his retirement party!

* * * * *

While Grandma was still alive last week, I spent some time sitting with her in her room. I knew she couldn't really communicate but I hoped that a part of her would realize that she wasn't alone.

There was a photo of album of Grandma's on a table by the bed, so I looked through it. Pictures of my family, and aunts, uncles, and cousins. And something I didn't expect. A newspaper clipping.

Mom's obituary.

I remembered that it had been in the paper.

I didn't remember one of the last paragraphs.

To paraphrase: "Because Ms. Alien's father supervised so many city employees, and because he and his family are so respected, most city services will be closed so that employees can attend the funeral."

Yeah, they pretty much shut down City Hall. So that they could all be with Dad and the rest of his family while we all said goodbye to my Mom. The church was packed. I remember that it seemed crowded.

I'm sure I'd read that obituary before; I know I have a copy somewhere. I didn't remember that part.

Yeah, that's the kind of guy my Dad is. That's how people feel about him.

And some of the stuff I wrote to him in my email a couple weeks ago was way off base.

I also began to realize something that hadn't previously occurred to me.

I've always fretted that, because I don't live in the same town, Dad doesn't have enough time or opportunity to get to know who Sarah is. People *think* that the alien thing is no big deal because, after all, I'm the same person on the inside, but the truth is, that just isn't so, and it's frustrating and scary when Dad treats me like Former Self.

But what I've realized lately is that Sarah doesn't know who her Dad is anymore, either. I can perceive emotions and relationships in a way that Former Self simply couldn't, and it gives everyone an added dimension that I never knew before. From my perspective, Dad's a different person, too! I'm going to have to work on that.

I'd like to get to know him better before I lose him like I lost Grandma.

He seemed a little more unsettled than I expected on my last visit, and as a result, I stayed an extra day. He didn't seem upset, or sad, just... troubled, somehow. I couldn't figure it out but I felt like I should stay around.

Then at one point, he told me that Grandma wasn't just his Mother-in-law, she was someone he had known for 44 years... and a good friend.

At the memorial service, someone pointed out that Grandma had once said that my Dad was the best son-in-law a mother could ask for... but an even better friend.

And, yes, this was my Mom's mom, that Dad spent so many years taking care of. When I tell people this, they seem surprised, but, yeah, Dad's that kind of guy. Not only did he feel responsible for her, he also loved her. And they were good friends.

I struggle to understand his loss as I struggle to understand mine.

And... Stepmom? Another puzzle. I remember Dad telling me that she was more than willing to help take care of Grandma in her last years. Before they married, and for a year or so after, Grandma lived with them. And Stepmom had been a frequent visitor at the retirement home.

We've all suffered a loss... but each loss is different. Each person has lost a different relationship, with a different background, different feelings, and different memories.

Many, many little puzzles. And to understand them all, I have to learn to see the tiny little details that are different in each relationship.

Much more complicated than comparing hotel rooms.

I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.

But I think everything will be okay.

User Journal

Journal: Chicken and Shoelaces, Love and Death

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

The hotel supposedly has wireless internet access, but in practice, it only works with the screen of my iBook pressed flat against the window, held chest-high. It's rather hard to type that way. And the signal is so weak, it really is a little like trying to communicate with the Voyager space probe.

If I had a 10baseT cable, I could plug into the wired network jack instead. "Gee, Sarah, do you have a 10baseT cable with you?" Do I? What do you think, hmm?

It's very cold by the window. The air conditioner is right below the window. It's very hot outside, so the air conditioner is very nice... unless you're standing above it while cold air blows up your jammies...

I'd probably get a better signal in my car, but I'm not going to go surf the internet in my car in my jammies in the middle of the night! And I don't care enough to bother; I managed to send the important email, and the rest of it can wait until tomorrow.

Dad's house has wireless too, and the signal strength should be something more like normal. That is, if I can get on the network; I think they replaced their wireless router and I don't know what the new setup is. I hope they remember the password. I hope it has a password!

Sigh. It's been a long day.

* * * * *

I guess it was just about 48 hours ago that I was laying in bed and realized that the shoelaces were probably in the refrigerator.

I got out of bed to check... yep, there they were, right on top of the chicken.

I decided that as long as I was up, I should probably also put the chicken in the freezer, since, after all, Grandma was probably going to die.

Because, of course, if Grandma died, I probably wouldn't have time to cook the chicken right away... so I put it in the freezer.

The shoelaces are a bit harder to explain.

We're still fighting with my insurance company about covering my surgery several months ago. This has made me, intermittently, both blue and cross, so at least they believe in truth in advertising! Too bad they don't believe in returning my phone calls.

So, back on Tuesday, when I was at work and got an email from a whole different insurance company about a whole bunch of money they should be reimbursing me for, I was, understandably, just a teensy weensy bit bummed to read that they had denied 90% of my claim.

Ok, I was mad. By which I mean, of course, borderline psychotic. It didn't help that I was feeling miserable and that my nose had been running all day, and that Grandma was dying, and that the other insurance company stopped returning my calls two months ago, and that I *really* needed the money from both. I had just been pushed a tiny bit too far, and that was really the last straw. I decided to go home, which worked out, because I had already been feeling sick all day and asked to go home early. Only now, I was both sick, and pissed off at the world, and sobbing intermittently.

I stomped off to my car.

As I was getting into my car, a very nice girl was walking by on the sidewalk. She stopped for a moment, then turned to me, and asked, very sweetly, "Excuse me, could I ask you a question?"

My reply? "NO!!!!!" I screamed it in my loudest and deepest voice. The poor girl. It's so hard to find strangers again, to apologize to them. I guess it's probably easier just to be nice. Sigh.

So anyway, I threw my stuff in the car, and headed for the grocery store. To buy kleenex.

Did I mention my nose had been running? And the crying wasn't helping. Crying for a whole three-day weekend hadn't helped either.

Upon arriving at the grocery store, I decided to sit in my car and sob for ten or fifteen minutes.

* * * * *

Ok... c'mon Sarah, get a grip, we need to go shopping.

Oh, wait, don't forget to pick up the package. The grocery store has a mailbox place. I get packages there. It's my new surge suppressors. Hopefully they'll help me stop blowing through cheap DVD players.

The woman at the mailbox place is always nice to me. She notices I don't look well, and asks. I don't scream at her, but instead say something noncommittal, and try to force a smile. She seems concerned. But how would I explain, anyway?

Ok... cart... ok... get out of my way, out of my way, why is everyone in my way?!?!?! I probably shouldn't be shopping right now. Oh well.

Ok, kleenex aisle... fling boxes of kleenex into the cart. Later, it turns out to be six boxes. Oh, and do I need toilet paper? What kind of toilet paper do I buy? Do I care? Why are there so many kinds of toilet paper?!?!? I can't put up with this kind of crap... Grr... fling! Ok, we've got toilet paper.

Do I need anything else? Do you think I care, I don't care, why am I even at this stupid store... chicken. I'll get chicken. Oh, I vaguely remember liking this kind. Fling! And more chicken. Fling! And beef. Fling!

Dammit, my shoelace is untied again, for the ten-thousandth time since I got these stupid shoes. They just never stay tied. And they're too long. And they're frayed now too. Ok, they have shoelaces here, don't they? The cart and I storm off to find shoelaces.

Hmm, do I want 36 inch, 48-inch, 56-inch, or 72-inch? How the hell am I supposed to know? Don't get technical with me today, damn shoelaces! Why does the world hate me?

I decided to get the 36 and the 48's. After all, the ones I have are too long, so I think that means the odds are in my favor if I choose the lowest pair... isn't that right?

I am *not* in the mood for probability exercises right now, thank you very much! Aaargh! Fling, fling. Ok, there are shoelaces. They are fine.

I storm off to pay for the groceries. The cashier doesn't try to make small talk, thank goodness. I storm out of the store much as I stormed in.

* * * * *

As I drove home, I tried to work out whether there was a difference between "road rage" and regular rage while you just happen to be driving. And whether cars should have, in addition to hazard lights, another special set of warning lights that mean "please just don't f**k with me today, ok?"

I managed to get all the groceries from my car to my apartment in just one trip, by using the foldaway cart I keep stashed in the trunk for just such occasions. Unfortunately, I also managed to break the cart, apparently, since usually it doesn't shed little plastic bits on the sidewalk from the car to the apartment. Unfolding it with extreme prejudice may have been a suboptimal choice. Whatever.

Once I got the groceries and the remains of the cart up the stairs and into my apartment, I was home and safe, and ready to transition from "blind rage" to "sobbing uncontrollably".

I think this was right around the time that the shoelaces ended up in the refrigerator, but I can't really be sure. I wasn't really paying attention.

After an hour or so, I did manage to calm down a bit.

Once a bit calmer, I decided to re-read the email from the reimbursement company, so I fired up Apple Mail to download the message and read it in all it's annoying html-ified glory. Denied, denied, denied, hey wait, that doesn't add up to... oh wait, this column is... oh.

In my own defense, the first time I read the message, I read it using the unix "mailx" program from the command line, for reasons too obscure to be worth elaborating. Mailx predates html by a decade or two, and without an html interpreter, it was rather hard to read the table of numbers in the message...

As it turns out, they *accepted* 90% of my claim. I should get the check by next week.

Sigh.

I spent the rest of the day resting.

* * * * *

Now, the interesting question is, why was I so upset?

Well, hormones probably played a part. With me, they usually do. And we still haven't found a good, stable hormone regimen for me since the surgery. We're still tinkering. Sometimes I'm fine, and sometimes I'm a little nuts.

And part of it was probably from getting called "Sir" last week at a particular large, well known, and evil retail store. Which was probably related to the hormones too, but also poked at my frustration at not making any recent progress with certain aspects of my transition.

All of which had rolled into one big sloppy and emotionally unmanageable nightmare, which left me crying during most of the labor day weekend, interrupted only by some visits with concerned friends, and an hour or so of working in the garden, where "working" means "throwing away eight giant trash bags of dead plants from my failed garden".

Which then collided with my struggles to deal with people who knew my former self and somehow assume that I'm more or less the same person, which is seldom true, and always frustrating.

And that all crashed into my struggle to redefine my relationship with my Dad, who, after all, raised my former self, and has a more difficult challenge than anyone else in terms of unlearning about the old me and learning about the new me.

The whole mess sent me over the edge, to the point where I really had to say something to Dad.

So I wrote him a long, rambling email... after eight pages, I started over again and wrote him a shorter rambling email: Why haven't you helped me? Why have you abandoned me?!?!?!

Now, for those of you who don't have the good fortune to know my Dad, he is, quite simply, one of the nicest most giving people ever. So I was being more than a tiny bit unfair. But I was hurting, crying, and not thinking too clearly.

After the rambling email to Dad, I went out to tear down the dead garden. Once I finished with that, I needed a shower, as dragging eight bags of dirt, dead plants, and excess planter boxes to the dumpster in 100 degree weather is hot, dirty work. Then I sat down to check my email. There was a message from Dad.

Grandma's in the hospital... she's not expected to survive much longer... we're staying with her at the hospital, I'm just home for lunch... and he was generally puzzled as to why I was so freaked out. And probably hurt by some of the things I said.

And that's how I found out, on Labor Day, that Grandma was dying... by hurting my Dad's feelings.

Worst. Three day weekend. Ever.

* * * * *

Looking back on the whole situation, it makes more sense that the beginning of this week was rather a disaster, doesn't it? And that one misread email was more than I could handle.

On Tuesday night I got an email from Dad saying that the nursing home didn't have a bed for Grandma, so they were moving her to his house, and would arrange for hospice care, and if I wanted to see her one last time, I should probably come this weekend. I thought about it for a second and decided to come sooner, and my boss gave me time off, so I scrambled to get my act together and headed to his house, a four hour drive.

I've seen Grandma. Yes, she's dying. Dad spent a couple hours harassing the UPS people until they found the package from the compounding pharmacy, so now Grandma has morphine. She seems comfortable, but she's no longer very communicative.

I'm not sad... well, just a little. But not grief-stricken. This is just her time.

Since Grandma is in the "spare" bedroom, there's nowhere for me to stay... so Dad got me a hotel room.

The wireless internet doesn't work very well here.

But the new shoelaces are just *great*!

And Dad and I have talked. He still loves me. Which I knew all along. I just needed a hug and a little reassurance.

And Grandma is passing away quietly and comfortably, with her family taking care of her. Just as she had wanted.

Life is, oddly enough... good.

User Journal

Journal: Random Updates On The Occassion of My 10k Milestone

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Sorry, these are all little snippets; I'm trying to do Real Work in another window.

I'm stuck at work despite the fact that everyone else left early. I had to go to the doctor at lunchtime and traffic was a nightmare, so I'm staying put for another couple hours. Maybe it will be a little better then. Maybe.

A big milestone today: My car now has 10,000 more miles on it than it did when Dad first bought it for me! Time for another oil change, too. Note to self: time for semi-annual rat check in engine compartment.

Today's doctor visit was for the endocrinologist; we're starting the long process of post-surgical hormone rebalancing. Today's surprise discovery: the headaches I've been having are migranes! Oh, that must be why I've had the lights in my office turned off for the last month, huh? Dr. S said it would probably get better. We're going to try a combination of low-dose pills and a compounded cream. I couldn't get the cream today because of the traffic. I'll have to go next week.

Note to undergraduates everywhere: your chances of getting what you ask for are significantly improved if you can actually clearly state what is is you're asking for. Just FYI.

Note to self: undergraduates' chances of knowing whether they got what they asked for are significantly improved if you can actually cut and paste their email addresses properly. Just FYI.

I have a really cool webpage now. Unfortunately, the machine serving the page is so tightly firewalled that I'm pretty much the only person that can see it. Okay, it's not really that cool. It's more useful than cool.

Do you know the difference between "rm -rf usr" and "rm -rf /usr"? Well, the latter usually does nothing, unless you're root, in which case it produces a whole lot of nothing in a place where nothing is bad. The former is what I meant to type. Guess who was root? Stupid fingers.

Oh well, I didn't mind reinstalling again last night... except that I had already reinstalled the night before to try to get my new video card to work right. The new video card is for the monitor that I didn't buy.

I didn't really reinstall last night; I half-finished reinstalling and then went out to dinner instead. Dinner with a friend is way more fun than reinstalling. I hate computers.

Hmm, if I install the Dapper Drake release candidate, then technically that won't be reinstalling, because I've never installed that before. Cool, I don't have to reinstall after all! Saved by a technicality.

I had to fix my own dishwasher this week. Guess who inspired me?

Do you know the difference between a fermentable fiber supplement and a nonfermentable fiber supplement? If you take too much fermentable fiber supplement, you might be too embarassed by the resulting natural biological effects to have maintenance come over and fix your dishwasher for you.

People are really interesting, don't you think? I like that they don't need to be reinstalled. Well, usually not.

At the moment I'm really interested in boundaries. Everybody has them, and they're all different, and it's sometimes hard for me to figure out how to avoid inadvertent transgressions.

This is probably why I never say very much here about he-who-is-coming-to-visit-yet-again-this-weekend. I don't know where his boundaries are. And I don't know where mine should be.

I'm very happy he's coming to visit again.

Come to think of it, there's a lot that I don't talk about here, not because I'm unwilling, but because I don't know where I should set my boundaries.

The garden continues. A few weeks ago I was feeling well enough to go out on the balcony, dispose of the dead and dying plants that I couldn't take care of when I was feeling sick, and plant some new seeds. Little green sprouts are starting to appear. Little green tomatoes are beginning to show up on the tomato plant, which is now about seven feet tall. The baby birds disappeared; I think they were probably eaten by some larger bird. Maybe a crow. And I found a dead bird on the balcony; I think it was mommy bird. Another bird is using the same nest now. Life ends, and life goes on.

In theory, it is kind of like Make, but without Make's wrinkles. Instead, it has freaking Fjords! Slartibartfast would be proud. (You do not need to understand this. I needed to vent, ok? Grr.)

Okay, one last build, and I'm going home fore sure.

I need to go grocery shopping. Maybe in the morning instead? I'm tired.

The build builds. Well, to be more specific, it's broken the same way it was an hour ago, but now I know what doesn't work. The nice bit is that when you run this particular build process, it reinstalls itself!

Okay, okay, maybe just a little grocery shopping.

User Journal

Journal: Vanessa Facen and My Recent Surgery

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Did I mention one of my other motivations for my recent surgery?

Her name was Vanessa Facen.

Authorities say transsexual woman who died had fought with deputies

Sheriff deputies' use of force contributes to death of transgender person

No, I didn't know her. In fact, all I know is what I've seen in the news stories.

But the story has always bugged me.

Okay, so a 35 year old pre-op transsexual, with "no history of violence or mental health problems" is found naked and bleeding in her neighbor's condo, having thrown herself through a window, and later becomes violent and combative.

And blah blah blah, she fights with police and they smother her or something. That's what people are focusing on.

My question is: WHY?

Why was she naked? Why did she break into her neighbor's home? Why was she behaving this way, all of a sudden? Was she disoriented?

Why was she behaving this way in the first place?

I sincerely doubt she woke up one morning and decided that she wanted to die in a long drawn-out fight with sheriff's deputies. And I think burglars typically wear clothes. I don't think a typical burglar starts by getting naked and flinging herself through an unopened window. Something's just not quite right here.

I think maybe something was wrong with Vanessa. Something medical. But what?

I knew that drugs were a possibility, but the toxicology report seems to rule that out. So, what then?

After I read the first story, I had two guesses: stroke, or hormone imbalance. Disorganized thinking and confusion can be symptoms of a stroke, and being on estrogen increases the risk of a stroke. And anybody who's struggled with their testosterone/estrogen balance knows what it's like to try to fight that inner demon that gives you the overwhelmingly angry urge to smash things and hit people.

So when I first read this story last year, it had quite an impact on me. Because I've had a stroke, and there's a chance I could have another, a chance that was even greater given the megadoses of estrogen I was taking at the time. And I was struggling with the same combative behavior issue, and had for *years*, although I often did a good job of hiding it.

I realized that the exact same thing could happen to me. It scared the hell out of me.

And I knew that, post-orchiectomy, my estrogen dose would go down, my risk of stroke would go down, and my emotions might become easier to manage, thus reducing *my* chances of being killed in police custody for having a medical problem I had no control over.

Post-SRS, I may not even have to worry about being taken to the men's jail if I'm arrested. (While she had lived as a woman for 15 years, Vanessa was being taken to the men's jail downtown because she still had male bits. That's how it works here.)

The world is a very scary place for aliens and transsexuals.

I hope I'm at least a little safer now.

More on this story if it develops...

User Journal

Journal: Yawn...

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

My brain still isn't quite recalibrated from my little adventure; I went to bed at 10pm last night, then woke up at 2am and never really got back to sleep. I hate it when that happens.

Finally decided to get up and DO some stuff; I had a PC with Fedora on it and I had decided to install Ubuntu instead, so I'm doing that now. Of course, first I had to spend a couple minutes checking the previous configuration, then booting into XP on the other partition, then 45 minutes to figure out why the network wasn't working, then patch it, then scan it for viruses. I think that's why Windows and I don't get along very well; it seems to take a lot of my time even when I'm not even trying to use it! But, finally, Ubuntu is now installing onto the other partition. One more chore done.

I have a lot of chores like that; stuff I "meant" to do, but never got around to because I just wasn't feeling well enough.

I'm rather enjoying not feeling yucky, for a change!

I'm still in a moderate amount of pain from the surgery; the right side was defintely complicated by a whole lot of blood collecting somewhere or another. The biggest problem with that was that the tissue was all tight and swollen, and that was causing a lot of pain. I was a bit panicked when I started to bleed on Wednesday, but as it turned out, it was a good thing; the collected blood was coming out, and by Thursday morning I was in dramatically less pain, and was able to go to work by mid-morning, after dealing with the overnight bleeding, and spending entirely too much time trying to remember how to get ready for work in the morning. It had only been a week and a half!

The good news is that, while I'm in pain, it's really only a bit more pain than I had *before* I had the surgery, and there's a good chance that the pain will go away as I heal. Yay!

The *really* good news is that I'm still emotionally stable! The random ups and downs of the past six months seem to have just gone away, and really, that was the biggest thing I was hoping for from the surgery. I did kinda sorta burst into tears on Thursday morning while drying my hair, but I really think that was just accumulated stress; I felt better within ten or fifteen minutes. I'm pretty sure that's just how I am. And I'm ok with that.

I was looking in my medicine cupboard this morning, admiring all the drugs that I no longer have to take. And dramatically less estrogen, too. I'd been in the habit of keeping a spare bottle or two so that, in the event of an emergency, national crisis, or whatever, that I would have enough estrogen to last a couple of months. I realized this morning that, now, that's enough estrogen to last me two or three *years*. Cool! I guess I won't need to go to the pharmacy again for a loooooong time!

In about a month, I'll go have some blood drawn and then see my endocrinologist. I'm guessing I won't need to see him very often anymore, either.

Oh, and as near as I can tell, I'm magically pooping like normal again! After three years of the spironolactone giving me fits, I had thought that it might take a long time for things to get back to normal, but in fact, they're already better than normal ever was! I had two big bran muffins for dinner last night, and no tummy pain at all!

I still need to harass my insurance company about reimbursing me for the surgery; with all the health benefits that I've gotten from the surgery, it's just silly that they didn't cover this! I'll see if I can reason with them. Even if I'm on the hook for the whole thing, it's not that bad; I'm putting enough money into my Health Care Reimbursement Account (HCRA) to cover the entire surgery, and that's all pre-tax. Once I get things settled with the insurance company I'll file to get reimbursed for the remainder. Stupid paperwork.

Now I'm starting to look at what I want to do next.

I know I want to go visit Dad and Stepmom; I was supposed to go about a month ago but the estrogen injections were making me too sick and I had to cancel. It's also past time for me to go visit you-know-who who has come to see *me* once a month since we started dating. I think it's my turn to do the driving, for a change! And he'll probably come see me again, too. And we're planning on going to ComicCon in July.

Dad has volunteered to pay for some additional electrolysis. Now that my insurance covers SRS, he's off the hook for that, but still wants to help. We're debating travelling to one or another out-of-state clinic that uses injectable anesthetic and can do a bunch of work at once; having been full-time for a year and a half now, letting my hair grow out for weekly electrolysis sessions is much more problematic than it was before, despite the fact that I've had a bunch of hair removed already. But a few anesthetized full-day sessions would make a big difference. And Dad's volunteered to go with me, too.

And then there's SRS.

I'm debating three different scenarios now: try to do it this year, around the end of the year, so that the recovery time will overlap with the Christmas/New Year's break at the university, which is the quietest time of the year and thus a good time to be gone. Or, try to do it next year, when I can use next year's HCRA to cover my share (20%) of the surgery. Or, just postpone it indefintely, which is more or less ok with me, since I'm not in any hurry. I'll probably think about this for a couple months while I heal up. I wouldn't worry about it all right now, except that there's usually a 4-6 month lead time for the surgery, so if I want to do it this year, I'll need to put that in motion within the next couple of months. This assumes, of course, that it's even feasible to do, which will depend on a variety of random things.

And I want to work on my garden. It hasn't done well; it has needed attention, but hasn't gotten it over the last few months. Lots of stuff has died, or is now permanently stunted. Oh well. A little more dirt, start a few more seeds... I'll be back in business. And not everything is a disaster. I have a tomato plant that actually has a couple of tiny green tomatoes on it already, so I have high hopes that it will stay alive. And the broccoli was very pretty when it flowered! You're actually supposed to eat it before then. White fuzz killed the zucchini and the gourds, but that's ok, you're actually not supposed to plant them together anyway; they can cross-pollinate and you can end up with zucchini you have to cut with a saw! The strawberries are alive but still don't look very healthy; I'm not sure what to do for them. They flowered quite a bit but it looks like it will all be deformed little micro-berries.

The family of birds that has taken up residence on my balcony seems to be doing very well! Mommy bird still flies away every time I stand near the door, but that's ok. And it's a little noisy during feeding time. I tried to get a picture of the babies, but couldn't quite get up high enough; I can kind of see two little balls of fuzz in the bottom of the nest. Maybe in a week or so they'll be big enough to take a picture. I'll try again sometime.

And I think the sewing machine would like some attention too; I was very intent on learning to sew, but haven't had time to even play with it since, oh, October, maybe? I was thinking about trying to make little stuffed animals or something; I already bought the little plastic beans to fill them with. Or maybe I'll make stuffed plants instead of stuffed animals; at least they wouldn't die quite so easily!

And I need to start thinking about getting back to calculus, too. The one course I need to get my degree is only offered in January, but it will take me many months to get back up to speed enough to even think about trying to pass it.

So, now that my health is improving, there will be a lot to do.

But the biggest benefit I've received from the surgery so far?

Hope.

As my hormone balance slowly came unglued last year, the hope I had found by maintaining that balance slowly went away as well. I did a pretty good job of learning to cope without it, I think, but I had to work quite a bit to force myself to believe that it was perfectly ok to live my entire life without any hope at all for a reasonable future.

It's really nice to have that hope back... and to know that, thanks to the surgery, it will probably stay for good this time.

And while I think that the immediate future presents considerable challenges, I think, maybe, with hope, I'll be able to get through it.

User Journal

Journal: My Surgical Adventure

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

[April 26]

Well, it appears that I've survived my "little" surgery.

It felt really weird wearing sweatpants to work, but they had said to wear loose clothing, and the friend who was going to take me there works across the hall from me, and since we didn't have to be there until 11, it made sense for her to just pick me up early in the morning and go hang out at the office until it was time to leave.

I even got some stuff done! Fixed a little bug, and responded to some customer-service type stuff that I have to deal with.

Then we were off on my big adventure!

We found the building easily, but missed the turn. Six turns later we were coming at it from the other direction... and there was a "no left turn" sign. So we went around to try from the other direction again. Wheee!

Found the building, found a parking spot, found the office. Check in. Fill out the paperwork. Sign this. And this. And initial here. And sign this. This is out HIPPA policy, sign here. And this indicates that you'd like to be resuscitated (ooh, yes please!). And you'll have to pay... it was about $1200 for the surgical center and $400 for the anesthesiologist. I had already paid for the doctor last week. I paid with a credit card; we'll work on arguing with Blue Cross again next week.

Sit with my friend in the wating room... waiting... waiting... somehow we end up talking about family members who died. Oh, probably because I lost an uncle just last weekend. In fact, Dad's in Illinois for the wake and the funeral.

Finally, they call my name. I stand up. Friend gives me a hug. And the nurse led me into the changing area. Take off this and that, keep this other stuff on, put this on there, these go here, and here's a bag for your stuff. I wonder, do they realize how confusing such simple instructions can be when you're nervous?

Okay, all dressed and/or undressed as the case may be. Open the door and look for the nurse. She hands me a warm blanket and leads me to the operating table. We chat a little. We talk a little bit about my alien thing.

Anesthesiologist comes in. We chat a bit too. He asks me questions about my meds. Starts and IV. Gives me a "test dose" of a milky white liquid. No, I don't feel anything... giggle... ok, *now* I do... wheee... yeah, that's good stuff!

He gets called away for a bit. I chat with the nurses (now there are two, um, two *different* ones, I wasn't seeing double!)

Anesthesiologist comes back. He asks how I'm doing and I say I'm fine. He puts a giant syringe of the milky white stuff into my IV line. Hmm, it's not doing anything this time, that's weird...

Ow, ow, ow. Apparently I'm in recovery. Did everything go ok? Hmm, there are bandages down there. Ow, ow. Apple juice, crackers, put your pants on, get into the wheelchair. Wait, I just had surgery, why are you throwing me out so fast? Oh, that was a couple hours ago. I've been awake for an hour now. Time is passing very weirdly.

Friend is there. I'm very happy to see her.

Wheelchair to car. Drive to pharmacy. She drops me off. I slowly shuffle in to get the prescription to pay for it. She goes and finds parking, and manages to get a close spot.

Back in the car. Home. She drops me off again, then goes to park. I'm glad we worked that part out in advance so I don't have to worry if she'll be able to find my apartment again.

I climb the stairs to my apartment... slowly. Ow, ow, ow.

She comes in from parking her car. I lay on the couch, she stands in front of my heater. She's a tiny little thing and she's always cold. We chat for a while. She calls another friend of mine, my next door neighbor, who is going to check on me for the next couple of days. Neigbor comes over. We all hang out in my living room and talk.

This was the part that got to me.

See, I had surgery "down there" about five years ago. I took the bus to the hospital alone at 5am, and a friend-of-a-friend picked me up and dropped me off at home... and then I was home, by myself, on my own, for a week.

Now, I have people in my life who bend over backward to help me out, and make sure I'm ok. They're here, now, taking care of me... and I don't just know that they care about me. I can feel it.

This is what changing the brain chemistry has done for me. I can build these kinds of relationships. I can *feel* loved. I can feel how much they care about me. And it feels good. Wonderful.

This is why we're doing this. This is why I'm in pain. And it's totally worth it. I'm sure I made the right decision.

I made a special effort not to cry; their worryometers were already in the danger zone, and I didn't want them to panic! So I did tell them how much it meant to me that they were taking such good care of me, but I didn't cry.

And... uh... then I threw them out! :-)

Actually, I was still groggy from the surgery, and two people chatting with me was getting to be a bit much, so I told them I really needed to take a nap. So, after lots of hugs, friend-from-work left to go pick up her husband, neighbor-friend promised to check on me in a couple hours, and they both left, giving me some much needed quiet time.

* * * * *

[April 27]

That was as far as I got journal-wise yesterday. Now let me see if I can finish without needing another nap.

The biggest problem I had on Tuesday was figuring out how to pee. Between my slightly nonstandard anatomy, the way things were taped up, and the swelling, I was in the peculiar circumstance of not really being able to pee sitting *or* standing. And I figured this out the hard way the first time I tried to go, because I just plopped down on the potty as usual, tried to shift into a more workable position, and then, started to go before I had quite figured it out. Oops.

I was reminded of this old sex reassigment surgery joke: Will you have to learn to pee all over? No, you'll just naturally pee all over... giggle! Fortunately, that gets better as the swelling goes down.

So, as the swelling has gone down, this has been less of a problem. Well, that, and I finally figured out how to get on and off the potty in a way that lets me actually go *in* the potty. The real trick is not letting my hair fall in... yes, it's that kind of awkward. But judging by how things are going, I think that will only be a problem for the next day or two.

The other issue is that there's quite a lot of bruising; I'm pretty sure I managed to pop some internal stitch that first night while I was shifting around in an unsuccessful attempt to get comfortable; for most of the afternoon everything was fine, and then at one point I just noticed that some "things" were turning dark red. I've been more diligent with the cold packs since then, and it hasn't gotten any worse, and I talked with the nurse, who confirmed that yes, sometimes that sort of thing happens. (I have a male friend who had some surgery "down there" who ended up with a bruise that ran from his belly button to his knees. He was also the one who, when I told him I was planning to have this surgery, said to me, "I had mine removed too... but they put them *back* when they were done!")

Aside: the reusable gel cold pack thingies you can get at the drugstore work really well. I'm just glad I've been able to get through this whole thing without anyone recommending that I use peas. Yes, peas work... but in my opinion, the gel packs work much better... and don't involve shoving vegetables down your pants. As an added bonus, they're thinner, so if, for instance, a stranger comes to the door, you can answer it without fear of being asked, "Excuse me, but do you have frozen vegetables in your pants?" I find that a set of four works best, with three in the freezer and one in my pants, the next one is always ready when I need it. I also strongly recommend the ones that come in a cloth-covered gel pack rahter than a plastic gel pack with a separate cloth cover; I just think they're more comfortable. The ones I have are made by Ace, and have the added benefit of rounded corners.

Everyone's been taking good care of me. Friend from work calls or emails a couple times a day. Friend from next door checks on me every few hours, and even brought me some milk from the store, which I didn't desparately need, but will be nice because now I can make instant chocolate pudding tonight. I also felt better having finally asked him for something, she was starting to make me feel a little guilty that I *didn't* need anything, because she really wanted to help. I still have a hard time explaining to both of them that just the fact that they're a part of my life, and that they're here for me now, means more than they can imagine. But milk is nice too. :-)

Dad has called every day. He called yesterday from Illinois; my uncle's funeral was just finishing up and everyone was slowly heading over to my aunt's house. There were a lot of people there, he said; my uncle was a great guy and touched a lot of lives. I wish I'd been able to know him better; we've been on the west coast or Pacific rim for my whole life and I've only been back to visit Dad's side of the family a couple times. They're all good people, and I hope someday I'll have more opportunity to get to know them.

Tonight Dad called and he was in LA, having just flown back from Illinois and then picked up a fish tank they had special ordered several weeks before; they were about to head home but wanted to check on me before getting on the road.

* * * * *

[May 1]

Okay, this time I'm really going to finish this entry!

I'm pretty sure there's something wrong. The right side is fine, little or no pain or bruising, everything as expected. The left side, on the other hand, is badly bruised, still very painful... and there's a lump, in a place where all the lumps should have been removed! Perhaps not surprisingly, that's the atrophic side that was operated on in 1972. I've needed vicodin yet again today; that part should have been over by the weekend. I'll see the doctor tomorrow morning; I hope it's not something serious.

Other than that, everything is fine. People keep calling to check on me. I'm not really bored yet, and I've at least recovered to the point where I can sleep through the night and get by with just one nap per day. Okay, maybe two, but I'm sure that's just the stupid vicodin. Which, by the way, I hate.

I've just about run out of junk food, but there's still plenty of regular food. In fact, I've been feeling the urge to eat healthier, which is good, and I haven't felt like I'm starving, which was a problem on the high doses of estrogen; sometimes I'd eat "dinner" two or three times. Hard to lose weight that way.

I have definitely gained weight, though; the fat-pants I bought just in case I gained weight after the surgery... fit quite comfortably. Yeah, I figured that stopping a diuretic (spironolactone) abruptly might do that. That's why I bought the pants.

On the plus side, stopping the spiro hasn't thrown my tummy into a tizzy, in fact, if I had to guess, I'd say things are working as close to "normal" in that department as they ever have in my life. And... I can poop again! Yay for me!

Sorry about that... it's just that I've been constipated since the day I started the spironolactone. Three years ago. THREE YEARS!

Oh, and I can sort of pee normally again. There's still swelling, though, and I'm sure it will continue to get better.

The other cool thing is that, emotionally, I've been absolutely stable, which has been wonderful. No outbursts of uncontrollable anger, and no tears. Okay, almost no tears, except for this one episode of Quantum Leap from NetFlix. That's fine; I'm happy this way. I don't mind crying, as long as there's some vaguly plausible excuse for it! (Here "vaguely plausible" means "something a woman would understand"... guys might not understand, but that's ok too.)

Yawn.... ok, I'm going to try to post this, and then try to get to bed early. Tomorrow's doctor visit will be the first time I've left the apartment in a week. Hope I can make it down the stairs!

I haven't proofread this much... sorry about that. I officially blame all mistakes on stupid vicodin, so there!

User Journal

Journal: An Alien Update

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

I'm way overdue for an update here... I've actually tried to write a bunch of different times, but somehow, I just haven't been able to do it. Then last weekend, I finally did write a very nice journal entry. It was about Easter baskets. It was pretty cool. But I thought it sounded too much like one of those things that would get me more advice than I know what to do with, and maybe make people angry too, so I don't know if I'll ever post it.

At the moment, I don't need advice; I've already had plenty, thanks. And I don't really need sympathy either.

All I really need is to share.

So, shortest possible update: I've been having major hormone problems for many months. We ended up switching me to high doses of injectable estrogen, which helped in some ways, hurt in others, and left me sick and/or limping about four or five days a week.

It's been very frightening to watch the gains I've made over the last several years slowly drift away because I simply don't feel well enough to *do* anything, or spend time with people. Clearly, I can't put up with this forever.

So, surgery is scheduled for Tuesday. Orchiectomy.

Hopefully, this will move me from my current intractable hormonal state to something more manageable. And there's good reason to believe that it will. But we won't know for sure until we try it.

Which is, admittedly, a little scary.

I think a lot of people *think* that my biggest worry should be something like, "oh, no, but what if I change my mind?" or something like that... but that's a non-issue for me. The first discussion of this particular course of action came about five years ago... before *I* knew about my being an alien. And this will be my fourth surgery "down there".

Things aren't right down there... and never were. And there's usually pain down there, too. As I told my therapist, if the whole transition thing *hadn't* worked out, I'd be doing the exact same thing. Or trying to.

It was kind of interesting how quickly things came together; once I found a surgeon I liked, I had the necessary approval letters within about a week, which probably has to do with having worked with the same endocrinologist and therapist for the last three years, and the fact that we've been talking about the possibility of doing this for almost that long. I said, "it's time", and they said, "ok." Family and friends know the whole story and are all supportive.

The only catch is my insurance company. Of course, they're claiming that they won't pay for this, for reasons known only to them at the moment, possibly because they feel that since they now cover SRS, orchiectomy isn't "necessary". My employer and I are both disputing that, but at this point it looks like I'll be paying for this myself and trying to get reimbursed for it later.

Whatever. Right now, that's not one of the battles I have the time or energy to fight. I've learned to pick and choose, when I can. And that's one I can deal with later.

I'm actually a lot more worried about what things will be like in the weeks and months immediately following surgery. We'll have to figure out new hormone dosages for my new configuration; that *should* be easier, but who knows. And I expect to have tummy trouble for at least a few months, too, but I think that will settle down eventually.

I'm having a visitor this weekend! He's coming tonight and will stay until Sunday. I was supposed to have gone to see *him* by now, but I've been too sick to make such a long drive. And since it might take several months for me to find the new "normal" after surgery, I asked him specifically if he'd like to come "before", since I don't know how soon "after" will be practical.

I'm really looking forward to his visit; I need the distraction right now, and I always enjoy spending time with him. Maybe we'll go to a museum. Or maybe we'll go to the zoo again.

I wonder if he realizes that we went on our first date six months ago today? :-)

Six months... and he still thinks that it's worth a three hour drive to come spend time with me, despite the fact that I'm an alien, and despite the fact that my hormones are rather profoundly unbalanced at the moment.

So, in short, how am I doing?

I'm doing *great*! :-)

The rest is just a silly hormone problem.

User Journal

Journal: Quick Updates, and A List Of Words

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Hi everybody!

Sorry I haven't written... I was sick for a while... then real life was busy... etc... sigh.

Three Quick things:

First, thank you all very much for the comments, both privately, and in email. Though I haven't always been able to respond, I always appreciate the support... and yes, the help, too. I even made banana bread!

Second, I want to clear up a tiny little misconception... a couple of people have written to say, gee, sorry things are so tough for you right now... which is sweet. But... large parts of real life are actually going very, very well... far better than I had ever hoped for. I just... I don't know, I haven't been writing about that stuff here, for a variety of reasons, which I won't try to explain right now.

Oh, ok, maybe I will.

See, writing these journal thingies takes a lot out of me, emotionally, even when things are going well. I have the same problem with writing email, which is why sometimes you don't hear from me... and it makes me very sad. Don't ask me *why*, this is, that's just the way it is at the moment. But one consequence of this is that sometimes I tend to talk about what's bothering me... not all the things that are going well... because I get more out of the *experience* of writing about the things I'm struggling with. Writing about the difficult things helps me sort them out in my own mind.

So, while it may seem like I'm suffering... large parts of my life are more or less kicking some major butt these days, and I couldn't be happier about them. I'll try to find some time to write about all the good stuff that's going on, ok?

Third and final thing: I've been struggling with one thing lately. It is complicated. I'm not confident in my ability to explain it in a way that people will understand. I've been procrastinating... but it's something I need to talk about. When I find the time, energy, and emotional space, I'll take a shot at it.

In the meantime, here is a list of words.

This is not a writing exercise. It's a piece of the difficult thing I need to talk about.

I present it here without any comments, because I want to be deep and profound, and I want you all to consider these words in a zen-like manner so as to achieve a greater and more profound understanding of what it is I'll be trying to express.

Okay, that's not true... I wrote this list on a piece of scratch paper, then I accidentally left the list at work, and had to walk all the way back from the parking lot to go get it, and then I almost lost it again at the hardware store... and I don't want to lose my notes!

  • Discomfort
  • Realization
  • Conviction
  • Desire
  • Denial
  • Hiding
  • Coping
  • Shame
  • Discovery
  • Pressure
  • Revelation
  • Commitment
  • Drive
  • Sacrifice
  • Loss
  • Survivor
  • Rebuilding

I'll talk about the words later... I hope... this is all I have the time and energy for tonight.

User Journal

Journal: Journal Problems #4: Oil Change

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Okay, this time we're going to try a little experiment.

So, today, I went to get my first oil change *ever*. I drove up to the oil-change place, and sat in my car looking confused until an attendant came. I explained to him that this was the first time I had ever had my oil changed and that I didn't really know what to do. To make a long story short, everybody was really nice to me, and I got my oil changed, plus a rather expensive cabin air filter...

Ok, stop. What are you thinking right now? Based on my previous experiences, I'm sure that there's at least one person out there who's thinking something like this:

Gee, Sarah just got her car, she hasn't been driving all that long, and she's never had it serviced before... she doesn't know what to do... she probably doesn't know much about cars... I should really try to help her.

Dear Sarah,

You probably got ripped off. What you don't know is that those oil change places offer to change your oil very cheaply, but then they will try to sell you all kinds of stuff you don't need... particularly if you're a woman. And I can't believe you told him you had never had an oil change before! That told him immediately that he could sell you just about anything and you'd buy it because you don't know any better.

If you needed a new cabin air filter, which you probably didn't, you could have gotten one at any auto-parts store and installed it yourself, and saved a whole lot of money.

The next time you think your car might need something, you have to call me. I'll explain everything you need to know and keep you from getting ripped off again, ok?

SomebodyWhoMeansWell

Now, if I'm not mistaken, that's actually good advice. Maybe a bit blunt, but otherwise, good advice, and a generous offer of help. I should be grateful when someone offers me something like this.

But when I get an email like this, I immediately get angry, and frustrated. It usually takes me several days to calm down, and another couple of days to figure out how to respond to such a message.

Why does this happen? What's going on here?

Let's dig a little deeper and see what we can learn.

Back when I was just starting to think about getting a car, I started asking people in real life about their cars. How do you handle maintenance? Do you know a good mechanic? Where do you get your oil changed? How much does it cost you? How does the process work? See, I knew that there was more to owning a car than just driving and getting gas, and I *knew* that I didn't know how this fit into people's everyday lives, and I knew that I would need to learn about it. So I did the blindingly obvious thing: I asked people.

I do know how oil changes work. I used to help my Dad change the oil in our cars. It's not difficult; I could certainly do it myself, although I don't really have a place to work on my car, and if I'm not mistaken, the apartment complex doesn't allow that kind of maintenance in the rental agreement. But that didn't really matter, because everyone I asked, including people who had garages and lots of tools, said that they just go to some random quick-oil-change place because it's just easier than doing it yourself.

I made a particular effort to ask single women how they handled their maintenance needs, to find out how things were different for them, figuring that this would give me better advice than hearing, "oh, my husband handles all of that..."

Everyone told me, "yeah, you just drive up, and they do it, and it only takes ten or fifteen minutes... and of course then they try to sell you everything under the sun... I never let them do anything other than the oil change; the rest of it gets done when I go into the dealer for my checkups..."

And of course, sadly, auto mechanics have a somewhat dubious reputation, particularly when they're dealing with women. I remember that in one book I read, a transsexual woman said, "You haven't really become a woman until you've been treated in a condescending manner by an auto mechanic!"

So I more or less had some idea of what things would be like.

My car's owner's manual claimed that, in relatively mild driving conditions, I could go as long as 6500 miles between oil changes. My location, and the kind of driving I do, would certainly qualify for that, I'm sure, but I decided I'd try to do it more often, say, every 3000 to 5000 miles, in the hopes that this car will last me a long time if I make the effort to keep it in good condition.

Then of course, I hit 3000 miles... and then 5000... and then 6000... and then 6500. By last week, I was at 7000. Sigh... well, I had the best of intentions! What happened? Well, partly, I was busy, and the October through December time frame was just one thing after another, so I just didn't get around to it. But there was another issue... I guess the best way to describe it is that, in a life where all sorts of mundane things are new experiences for me... I just get tired sometimes. New Thing Overload. So I really needed to wait until things quieted down a bit before I tackled the big intimidating Oil Change Thing for the first time.

Having asked around, there were no particular recommendations as to where to go; people often said, "I go wherever I have a coupon for!" So I figured I'd just have to try someplace and see what happened. I picked one down in one of my old neighborhoods, mostly because it's a neighborhood that I'm comfortable with and I know it's reasonably safe. It also happens to be next to Home Depot, and I needed to pick up a couple of things.

As I drove up to the oil change place, it wasn't entirely clear what I was supposed to do. There were about eight lanes leading to eight different service bays. Was I just supposed to pick one and drive up to it? Hmm, that little detail hadn't been one of the things I had asked about. I just pulled up and waited... eventually somebody came to talk to me.

I told him that this was my first car and that I'd never taken it for an oil change before. I did this on purpose. One of my girlfriends had described having the mechanics guide her as she drove the car into the service bay, and said that it made her very nervous. I get nervous about those kinds of tricky maneuvers too... and I wanted the service guy to know it, so that he didn't make some assumption that led me and my inexperience to crash into something or drive my car right into the big pit, instead of over it.

Also, I was curious to see what they would say, and what they would try to sell me... for me, this was as much a part of the Oil Change Thing as getting the oil changed.

So, the guy told me where to pull up... he didn't ask me to drive it into the bay, whew! He asked what I wanted, and I said just an oil change. He said it would be about fifteen minutes, and I could wait in the lounge. I asked if it would be ok if I ran over to Home Depot really quick instead, and he said that would be fine. So off I went, leaving my car key with them.

Um, threaded rod and nylon washers. No, you probably don't want to ask why. Maybe later.

While I'm waiting to pay for my stuff at Home Depot, the oil change people call me. They're just about done with the oil change, and they're ready to go over the maintenance check with me. Okay, I'll be right there.

So I pay for my junk and run back over to the oil change place. There's my car; they've moved it over one of the big service-pit thingies. The first mechanic is underneath, fiddling with something. He smiles. I squat down and wave at him.

A different mechanic is ready to go over the maintenance checklist with me... okay, you checked this, you checked that, ok, ok... that all sounds good.

But I do have a few recommendations for you... I suppressed a little giggle. Yes, I knew you would...

What do you think I need? Oh, flush this, flush that, change this other... uh, huh... and how much would that cost? Oh, you'll show me later, and give me a discount. Uh huh.

Oh, and you think the cabin air filter needs to be replaced? How interesting... I saw the filter; they had removed it to check it. It seemed to be covered with a surprising amount of dried leaves... hmm, I wonder if they keep a bag of dried leaves around to sprinkle when nobody is looking?

Okay, let's go over to the computer and see how much all this will cost... type, type, type... ok...

Um, no, I'm sorry, I can't spend $274 on an oil change. No, I'm sorry, I just can't. Yes, I'm sure it does need all that stuff (lie... I don't need this crap), but I just don't have the money right now (only sort of true), you know, this soon after Christmas, money is just really tight (we didn't even *buy* presents this year), so, um, I just can't afford to do it right now. No, not even if you give me a 50% discount, I'm really sorry, I just can't right now.

But, um, how much is the cabin air filter?

The price seemed high to me. At least three times as much as it should have been. At least that was my guess; of course, I'd never bought a cabin air filter before, but given other air filters I've bought, the general composition of air filters, and the size involved... I can tell there's a lot of markup involved here. A lot.

Well, I could just go get one myself and put it in; that will certainly be cheaper. They're easy to install; there's one screw to remove, which gives access to the space behind the glove compartment where the filter is installed on my car. I hadn't tried it, but I saw it in the manual, and it looked trivial. And I was going to pass an auto parts store on the way home from the oil change place!

So, should I just do it myself, and keep my money, or let this guy overcharge me and think he's managed to con a woman who's never had an oil change before.

Unfortunately, I knew some things the mechanic didn't know.

See, I meant to get a new air filter almost as soon as I got the car, back in April. It's a certified used car, but the obviously hadn't replaced the cabin air filter, as the air from the A/C was always a little dirty and musty smelling. I meant to just replace it... but had never gotten around to it.

Then back in oh, August or September, I started to smell something really weird coming from the A/C. Something stinky. Something really stinky. Gee, I wonder if there's something wrong; I don't think it's supposed to smell like that. I really need to get that new air filter... but I didn't get around to it.

The stench continued for a couple months, then gradually wore off. I was relieved that it hadn't been some kind of strange and expensive problem with the air conditioning. But, gee, it still smells just a bit weird... I really should go look for a new air filter. Oh, never mind... not this time... it can wait until next week... and so things continued, until December.

It wasn't until just before Christmas that I finally started to feel guilty about not having had my oil change done. And I was about to drive about five hundred miles, round trip, to see my family. Well, I hadn't found the time to get it changed in the weeks before Christmas, and I certainly didn't expect to find it in the last couple of days... so, I decided, well, maybe I should at least *check* the oil! So I popped the hood to check the dipstick...

On top of the battery, I found several small rat turds. And a very desiccated piece of tailbone.

Eeeeeeew! Eew, eew, eeeeeew!

I grabbed some paper towels and did my best to remove the last bits from atop the battery. Most of it has rotted away or fallen off, apparently.

My car has smelled like a dead rat. For months.

So I immediately run to the auto parts store for a new cabin air filter... no, of course not! I have stuff to do. Christmas. New Years. Busy, busy, busy. Besides, it's gone now... and there isn't really much smell anymore.

And now, here I am, trying to decide... should I let this guy sell me an overpriced cabin air filter? The auto parts store is on the way home, for goodness sake! And it will only take five minutes to install. And there's a screwdriver in the glove compartment, and another in the trunk. Just *do* it, and save the money, you silly girl.

Well, but not today... I have other stuff to do today. I'll do it tomorrow, though. For sure. Definitely by the end of next week. Really, really soon now. And then, well, I probably won't have time to put it in right away... I'll just leave it in the trunk until I get around to installing it...

Sigh... no, I won't. I should... but I won't. I won't get around to it. I won't get it done. Just like the last five months I meant to do it. Just like the oil change. I need to work on that... but not today. One battle at a time, ok?

So, um, yes, I'll take just the oil change... and why don't you go ahead and change that cabin air filter too? Yes, just those two. Yes, I'm sure. No, I'm going to skip the other stuff for today. Yes, I know how important it is... just the oil change and the cabin air filter. Please.

And so, I got my oil change, I got my Very Expensive Cabin Air Filter, I got my new experience. I've now done the Oil Change Thing.

Next time will be less intimidating... in fact, it will be no big deal, because I've gained a huge amount of confidence from this trivial little task. I've successfully dealt with an auto mechanic. I've successfully done the research so that I knew in advance what to expect. I successfully avoided spending hundreds of dollars on services that I didn't really need.

And my car smells just a little bit less like a dead rat than it did before.

For me, this is a big success. A big win. A milestone. I think I did *great*. I negotiated what was, for me, a tricky and intimidating social situation. And I also recognized my own limitations... and found a place for improvement.

Now, if you'll remember, this isn't about my oil change... it's about well intentioned offers of help, and how I react badly to them.

That's two different sets of issues. Well, three, sort of.

The first set of issues: Why do people sometimes make the assumption that I'm a completely clueless idiot? What makes them think that I can't possibly manage anything by myself? Why do they insist that I can't *possibly* survive without their help, particularly in *response* to evidence that I am in fact doing so?

Why do some people fail to recognize the things that are, for me, a success?

Is it my writing style? Is it what I choose to say, and what I leave out? Or is it how I say things? Or the topics I choose to write about?

Does my childlike sense of wonder in commonplace situations make people think that I am somehow hopelessly naive? *Am* I somehow hopelessly naive?

Why do some people assume that I don't have enough common sense to do my homework before going into a new situation?

Do I really seem that dense?

What makes this especially frustrating for me is that, when people fail to see that I do have the basics figured out, I miss out on the *additional* advice they might be able to provide. Instead, they write and tell me what I already know. They help me with the parts that I've already managed to figure out... instead of delivering some new insight that I'd really be able to use.

Should I, perhaps, describe every single experience I have in mind-numbing detail, and explain exhaustively every possible option that I considered, to justify my final choice, and prove that it was at least a plausibly valid choice? Would that, finally, lead people to believe that I might possibly have the basics of a given decision or situation under control? Or is it hopeless? Will some people regard me as somehow fundamentally incompetent no matter what I say or do?

The second set of issues: why do I react so badly to that kind of advice? People mean well, and I know they do. Why do I get angry? Why do I feel insulted? Is it because I'm egotistical? Arrogant? Am I just a bitch when it comes to hearing advice?

What's wrong with me? I don't want to be this way... I want to just smile, and write back, and politely thank them, and let them know that while I really appreciate their help, that the situation is much more in control than they had thought, and I'm fine, really, fine, everything's ok, but thank you for thinking of me. Thank you for caring enough about me to take time out of your day to write me and offer your advice.

And, actually, I *do* react that way. At least that's what people think. But it's an act. A lie. When I get advice like that in an email, I get really angry, I go ballistic for a few days, and then I sit down, grit my teeth, and write back, and thank them very politely.

I don't want to pretend. I want the me I'm becoming to always be thankful, and not to get angry at people who really did try to help.

Bringing this problem out into the open is, for me, a way to end the lie, solve the problem, and try to learn to be the person I want to be.

The third set of issues has to do with why it seems to be that I *always* have this problem with transsexuals. Not every single one... but just about. Maybe I've just had bad luck, or maybe there's something deeper going on there. But those issues can be left for another time.

And a final question I wonder about: why do so many people think that my journal "problem" is about them?

The problem isn't you, dear reader. I'm not complaining about the fact that you once sent me a suggestion, ok? Please don't write to apologize for that! When I've been happy to hear from someone, happy to meet them, happy to get to know them... and then they apologize? It makes me cry.

This isn't about you. It's about *me*. It's my attempt to understand the world, to understand the people in it, and learn and grow from the experience. Please, please, don't take it personally... unless you can learn from it too.

Comments and suggestions about car maintenance Eagerly Accepted. But please understand... I now know the basics of how to get my oil changed! I'm sure there's still plenty more for me to learn, though.

Coupon... Coupon?!?!?!... GRRRR...... yes, I *know* I should try to find a coupon to get the oil change cheaper next time, but, well, I don't get the newspaper, and I checked in my mailbox, and I think the mailman thinks that I've moved away, because I went to check the mail last night, and the box was *completely* empty, and I mean, usually there's a big pile of junk mail in there, and that's why I don't bother to check it very often, because all of my *real* mail goes to the PO box I rent on campus, but I thought the five pounds of junk mail might have an oil change coupon, but no, the box was empty, and now I don't know where my phone bill will go, because they changed the address when I upgraded my DSL connection even though I *told* them not to... and that's why I didn't have a coupon, ok?

Wow, thank you for the suggestion! That's a great idea! I'll try that next time! Thanks!

:-)

User Journal

Journal: Journal Problems #3

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Well, this is going to be a short one... I spent a bunch of time tonight writing to people... cried and sent apologies to one person who misunderstood, sent an explanation to another person... got unfriended by someone I have a great deal of respect for... and sent out another explanation to someone in an entirely non-Slashdot context. Three email messages... three hours.

And yet I'm going to press on, as time permits, despite the fact that I may be doing damage faster than I can even try to fix it. Sigh.

I guess the take home lesson is, if you have an awkward issue that you yourself don't understand, and it involves other people, and you don't know how to deal with it... whatever you do, don't try to be honest about it and talk about it as openly as possible in a public forum. Instead, the best approach is to just bottle up your frustration and suffering, and carefully maintain a polite inoffensive facade to the other people involved.

But I'm not going to do that... either I talk about this and work through *my* issues with it, or I stop keeping this journal, because there's just no point if I can't talk about the things I need to talk about. It's useless if I feel so constrained that I can't express myself. It's also useless if I can't manage to talk through an issue without offending every single reader in some way or another, though. Sigh. This is my "Journal Problem".

If you, dear reader, are offended by any of this... I apologize. I don't want this to hurt anyone... but don't entirely know how to deal with the fact that I don't entirely control that. Also, if you find my opinions offensive, keep in mind that part of what I'm trying to do is figure out what I think! I'm trying to learn about myself, as well as the world and the environment I live in, and make sense of it all. I cannot apologize for that. I'll do the best I can not to hurt anyone's feelings in the process, but I have rather limited control over how other people feel about things, ok?

And since I'm out of time tonight, let me just offer these random words of wisdom about people offering assistance that have come to mind lately:

Oh hallelujah, our problems are solved. We have banana bread ... Banana bread? Sorry, sorry, it's just that we haven't slept in days, and we're running out of money and ... Banana bread? What the hell were you thinking? Banana bread. Apologize, apologize again. As a token of forgiveness, please take this baby.

It may be a couple days before i have time to address this issue again... real life intrudes sometimes.

And maybe I'll make banana bread this weekend too...

User Journal

Journal: Journal Problems #2

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Before I start my next rant, please let me stress that this "problem" I'm struggling with does not originate with anyone on Slashdot, or anything written here. Yes, several Slashdot users have inadvertently stepped into it, always via private email, but the problem, for me, started in real life. It just so happens that the exact same problems I've had with transsexuals in real life *also* happen when I meet transsexuals via Slashdot.

And the situation is something I'd like to learn to deal with, since it seems like it's going to happen on and off for the rest of my life. Sigh.

* * * * *

In Mid-November, a local pre-op transsexual woman who had apparently transitioned fifteen years previously and had no prior record of violence, was reported to be acting erratically. She was arrested, taken for medical treatment, and then taken to the men's jail downtown, because she still had male genitalia. There was a struggle, and she died, for reasons that remain unknown. You can read the full article here.

I found this story very troubling in a number of ways, and it has had a profound effect on me. But that's not why I'm bringing it up now.

At one time, I had been a member of every trans-related support group I could find, and I was still on the mailing list for one of the local groups, although I had stopped reading it months ago. So I went to look and see if they knew anything more about this tragic story.

I didn't find any additional information about the tragedy.

But I found a curious reaction in one message.

I don't know whether or not it's okay for me to quote the message, so I'll just paraphrase.

The poster basically asked: Why do many local transgender people avoid the transgender community? Why are they hiding? Why are they afraid to "out" themselves to us? What can we do to reach out to them? How can we let them know that they're not alone? How can we help them?

I found this interesting because I could also be considered to be "hiding"... from the transgender community's perspective, anyway.

During the early part of my transition, I sought help from every single person and place I could find it. Some of those were helpful, and I sought to nurture those connections and relationships. Some were not helpful, and I gradually let those fall by the wayside in order to focus on what actually *was* helpful.

The local transgender community... wasn't particularly helpful. So I eventually gave up on it.

Not only that... none of the transsexuals I had met were very helpful either, and so those budding friendships dwindled or died... in one case in a rather painful way, which I may talk about sometime.

So, here I am, isolated, cut off from the community that's here specifically to help people like *me*... all alone. Without help. Without support.

Um... no...

As I mentioned in my last entry, in part I'm struggling to deal with an overabundance of support! I'm not just "not alone", I'm swamped with love and support from my friends, my family, and my coworkers. Pretty much *everybody* knows *everything*; I'm certainly not hiding! And everyone is willing to help, everyone is willing to talk me through things, offer a shoulder to cry on, and help me learn both what it means to be a woman, and how to learn to live an actual life after a decade of isolation.

Why do people in the transgender community assume that the only possible way to survive as a transgendered person is safely enveloped in the loving embrace of the transgender community?

And, oddly enough, they don't just do it as a community... they do it as individuals as well. I've had it happen to me a dozen times or more, on line and in person... Sarah, you have to let me help you. Let me teach you. You don't know what you're getting into. You're going to fail without my help. You'll destroy your life. But I can help. I can tell you what to do. My advice will save you.

When I was just starting out with my transition, I was extra-cautious about who I would accept help from and what kind of help I would accept, because I had read online that naive people early in their transition process can wind up getting into trouble, or get taken advantage of. I figured I would probably be vulnerable, so I was extra-careful, and simply did my best to deflect help from people who I didn't know and trust.

As time went on though, it became clear that my transition was going very well, better than most... but transsexuals continued to insist that they needed to save me.

Slowly, it became annoying... aggravating... frustrating... and finally, it just started to make me mad. Now, I tend to become enraged and insulted, and at this point it's clear that I'm now overreacting, and it's an issue that *I* need to learn to deal with.

And the woman that died? I don't know. Maybe she *was* struggling alone, desperate for help. Maybe not. I merely find it interesting, and a little troubling, that the transgender community is inclined to make that assumption.

User Journal

Journal: Journal Problems #1

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

There's a problem with my journal here, and I'm not sure it's fixable. I'm thinking about giving up on it entirely. I've decided to do a few entries about the problem and see if I can work through it, but if I can't sort it out to my own satisfaction, then I'm just done here.

If you're transsexual, you're going to think this entry is about you specifically. It isn't. In a sense, It's about you *collectively*. No single person is responsible for bringing this on.

Also, if you're transsexual, I'm really not that eager to hear from you on this issue... but you're probably going to write me anyway, no matter what I say, so I won't even bother to try to ask you not to. If you're not transsexual... honestly, I'm not sure whether I'm ready to hear your thoughts on this or not. Your call.

And finally... this isn't complete. There are more pieces to the problem than this. But I can't cope with it all at once. So we'll have to do it in pieces.

* * * * *

My transition has certainly been a challenge... but less so than I had expected. I spent years doing very intensive research, and doing my homework slowly and carefully turned out to be a big win. Things have gone very smoothly, and has to date been a success beyond my wildest dreams. It is, in fact, the most amazing thing I've ever done in my 38 years on this planet, and I'm intensely proud of my achievement.

Maybe that's why I get so angry and frustrated about this... problem.

The problem is, transsexuals read my journal. And then the fun begins.

They don't just write to say hi. They don't just write to make friends. They don't just write and offer help if I need it.

No, they write and tell me what to do and how to do it. They write to explain to me what it is I'm doing. They write to tell me that I need their help, that I have to have their help, that I can't possibly do this without their help. They write to insist that they help me. That I absolutely *have* to have their help. That I'll never understand, never be able to succeed, unless they explain it to me.

I *really* don't understand why transsexuals regard my journal as a cry for help. It's not, ok?

It was intended to share knowledge and experience. About life. Not about transsexualism.

And it had another purpose, but I'll have to talk about that another time.

I keep trying to find a way to say to transsexuals, "I don't need your help", but I'm always reluctant to just come right out and say that. It makes me sound arrogant and stuck up, and I don't want to be like that.

What I mean by that is NOT that I'm the world's foremost authority on gender disorders. And it is NOT that I can do it all without help... quite the contrary. I think the success that I've enjoyed has been a direct result of the people who have helped me... and the choices I've made as to who would help me, and how.

I have help. A lot of help. No... a *LOT* of help.

I have so much help that the extra help just spills over the top at this point. There is, practically speaking, a waiting list.

I can only accept so much help at one time. There are real-life relationships waiting to be developed that I simply don't have the time for. There aren't that many hours in a day.

And yet, every transsexual who writes me insists on pushing herself to the head of the line, so that she can take me under her wing and teach me everything I need to know.

And of course, I try to be polite. They send me a "suggestion", and I write back, thanking them, and explaining why that particular suggestion won't work for me, or can't work for me, or why we decided not to try it, or explain what happened when we did try it. They counter with another set of "suggestions", and the process repeats.

Occasionally, ten or twenty emails later, they will grudgingly concede that I seem to somehow know what I'm doing. Either that, or I just give up and stop writing back.

I'm really sorry... I don't have enough spare time to justify the decisions in my transition to every single transsexual on the internet, ok? Each one of those emails takes time and emotional energy to write, and, to put it bluntly, that's time I could have spent doing something else. Like building my real-life relationships.

You see... um, I'm pretty sure I know what I'm doing. I spent *years* doing the research. No, not the "yet another website that teaches me how to be a transsexual and do my own hormone therapy" type of research.

I work at a major research university, ok? We have a medical school. A medical library. Very expensive journal subscriptions. I'm not even vaguely intimidated by highly technical material. And I've always enjoyed reading and studying.

I spent about five years doing just that: reading and studying. Five years. Endocrinology. Neuroendocrinology and behavioral endocrinology. Urology. Urologic surgery. Pediatric urology. Intersex disorders. Transsexualism. Cosmetic surgery. Birth defects. Even a bit of dentistry!

Eventually I purchased some of the medical textbooks outright; they were simply too heavy to carry home from the library. The four volume set on urology was literally too heavy for me to pick up. I had to drag the box home from the mailbox place on a small, wobbly luggage cart. About a half mile. That was long, long before I had my car.

And then I read most of it. And most of the multi-thousand page endocrinology book. And hundreds of journal articles. Keep in mind, I had no life to speak of back then; free time wasn't really a problem.

Had I fit into the transsexual mold, in even some cursory manner, I never would have bothered with this much research. Medical treatment for transsexuals is comparatively straightforward these days. The problem was, I didn't seem to fit *anywhere*, and I kept looking deeper and deeper, trying to understand why. My eventual conclusion was that whatever incident, stressor, or genetic error that had caused me to have a variety of subtle birth defects had also, in fact, left me with an as-yet unrecognized neurological intersex disorder.

I was fully prepared to continue the research even further, but it became obvious that, for me personally, there began to be a diminishing rate of return on my research. I pretty much knew what was wrong, and while I couldn't prove it, I had a strong hypothesis that made a lot of sense. And it was obvious that incontrovertable proof was not going to be forthcoming. Neuroscience simply isn't up to the task of supplying that proof right now. Maybe in fifty to a hundred years. But not now.

Oh, and I did my best to read everything I could find on gender disorders, too. True Selves? Well, duh! Alter's book on genital reconstruction? It happens to be on my dining room table at the moment; I'm hoping to go speak to Dr. Alter in the next couple of months. Ousterhout's out-of-print book on craniofacial surgery? Yes, I have read it. And dozens more. I highly recommend
"Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex", by the way. Particularly for normally-gendered people.

I had learned as much as I could... and it was time to put what I had learned into practice.

This background knowledge has served me well in the ensuing years, though. I understand what's going on and why, up to the limit of what medical science is currently capable of working with. And a little farther, in fact; much of what has been learned in animal models hasn't been tested in humans yet.

I wasn't willing to rely solely on my own research, so I went looking for professional help as well. I was able to find a therapist and an endocrinologist, both of whom have twenty or more years of experience at treating gender disorders. I've always been very careful when working with them, however, to keep in mind that they have their own biases that don't necessarily match my needs or my treatment choices. That's something anyone should keep in mind when working with *any* medical professional.

An then there were the local support groups. At one point I was going to five different support groups for trans-this, queer-that... I went to everything I could find. I did my best to participate in the community. It took about a year and a half, but I eventually realized that there were two basic reasons why I was a bit uncomfortable in the groups. First, just about every single person at the group, while very friendly, was also very, very different than I was. I couldn't really relate to them, since they seemed to be on a completely different wavelength or something, and they couldn't seem to relate to me... but usually insisted that they *did*, despite evidence to the contrary. And second... sigh... what's a polite way to say that there's a whole lot of really fucked up shit in that community? There probably isn't one, huh? Anyway, I decided that I didn't want all that crap to become part of the person I would grow up to be... so I gave up on the groups, and the community, with a very few exceptions. In the time since then, I've more or less given up on the few exceptions, too. More on that some other time.

And yet... despite all my successes, despite all my hard work, despite everything I have learned.... to every transsexual on the internet, I just fell off the turnip truck yesterday, and need to have all of this *explained* to me.

And somehow, I have to learn to shrug off the insulting implication that I am a clueless newbie, ignore the fact that they seem to have no respect at all for what I have achieved for myself, and simply cope with the fact that, while they seem to misunderstand who and what I am all about, they still feel that I can't live my life without their help.

Sigh. I find this very, very frustrating. It makes me angry, too.

I want to be polite. I want to be gracious. I want to be appreciative. I want people to understand that yes, I really do appreciate all of their offers of help.

But I also want to scream, "JUST BACK OFF, DAMMIT!"

* * * * *

Now, for a brief FAQ:

Q: You should really be more open to accepting help from people, you know. You won't be able to transition without help.

A: Sigh... please go back and read this whole thing again. As I've said, I alreay have more help than I know what to do with. Also, that's not a question, silly!

Q: Why won't you let me help you? You need my help.

A: No, dear, I don't... I appreciate the offer, though, really, really I do.

Q: But have you tried... ?

A: Yes, I have. That didn't work for me.

Q: Well, you may not be aware that you can... ?

A: Yes, I know about that option. It doesn't make sense for me.

Q: Well, what about... ?

A: As I said before, I'm really sorry, but I don't have the time or energy to justify my transition to every transsexual on the Internet.

* * * * *

Well, I think that's enough for now... I need to get to bed. More on this as I have the time and energy to deal with it.

User Journal

Journal: Big Decision Time (LONG)

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

Looking back, I see that I've only been posting one or two journal entries a month. It's interesting that life is now so busy that I no longer seem to find the time to write about it! The truth is, it probably has more to do with time management issues than anything; there are now so many things I want to do, it's hard to find time for all of them.

There are some big things coming up... or, to put it another way, there are two little things that are likely going away...

Sigh... this is going to be complicated. Let's review first. And, um, this time, I'm going to leave some of the euphemisms behind. Sorry, this is just to complicated and important to be coy.

I started college in 1986. My life slowly fell apart; by 1992 I had been diagnosed with "depression". Almost a decade later, nothing had changed, and I caught a psychiatrist doing something stupid and decided they were all idiots. I went looking for my own answers, did some rather frightening chemistry experiments on myself, and found something I didn't particularly want to find.

The problem, apparently, was testosterone. Switch off the testosterone by suppressing it with drugs, and my depression went away, shockingly abruptly: four days. Four days, and *everything* was different. I didn't hate myself, I didn't hate my body, I didn't want to die... no depression at all. Stop the drug, and the depression came back in another four days. Spironolactone, a blood pressure medication with a fairly weak testosterone-suppressing side effect, was the miracle drug that made this happen. Further experiments indicated that 17-beta estradiol (plain synthetic estrogen, more or less) would do the same thing, but would take several weeks to take effect.

I knew this implied some sort of gender disorder, but that didn't make a huge amount of sense: I had no intense, driving urge to change genders, nor was I particularly interested in clothing of either gender, so a standard "gender identity disorder" didn't seem to fit. And my genitalia, while perhaps not perfectly normal, seemed close enough, and would certainly not fit a diagnosis of an intersex disorder.

I didn't particularly mind the idea of being a woman... but neither did I mind the idea of being a man. My neurochemistry, on the other hand, appeared to have fairly strong feelings about the matter: Testosterone bad. Estrogen good.

On my first visit to my endocrinologist, he asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to keep the hormone doses just high enough to control the depression, but keep them as low as possible, and wait and see what happened in therapy before making any big changes. (To this day, I *still* don't think he gets that; he continually brings up the issue of "feminization", which is, by and large, not something that concerns me one way or another, but he seems to see it as some driving factor for me, probably because it's important to his other patients. Sigh.)

So, we kept the dosages low, and I went to work in therapy, trying to figure out what the heck was wrong with me, and what exactly we were going to do about it.

One of the first things I was shocked to discover about myself is that I had lived an almost genderless life... and, worse, all my life, I had failed to notice! I had spent my whole life thinking that I was a perfectly ordinary guy, when, in fact, that had been far, far from the case. And as time went on, and I talked about the issue with friends, several people confessed that they weren't surprised, because I had somehow never quite seemed male to them...

It also became clear as time went on that one of the fundamental things I had somehow been missing was the ability to perceive gender-specific differences. Somehow I missed things that, to other people, were simply obvious. This was less surprising to me, because several years before, I had noticed that girls were, in general, curvier in the waist and hips than men were, and it seemed odd to me that I hadn't noticed this fact until I was thirty years old! As the hormones did their thing, my perception of the world changed significantly. I began seeing things that I had never seen before; things I had obviously been missing all my life. And, as nearly as I can tell, the hormones started me through puberty, for the first time, in my late 30's, and junior high and high school finally began to make some sense!

So there I was, stuck, having lived a peculiar pseudo-genderless existence... which, by the way, was where my "alien" term came from.

What was I supposed to do next?

Well, it seemed to me that a clearly defined gender might be a step in the right direction... after all, everybody else has one, and most of my years of pain and isolation were driven by the fact that I didn't understand *why* I seemed to struggle with various sorts of social situations. Now that we sort of understood the problem, could I learn to fit in, somewhere?

I had wandered into my therapist's office thinking that I might, just *might*, be a male-to-female transsexual, and was now faced with the fact that the situation was much more complicated and subtle than that, and resolving it would be more an exercise in gender *acquisition* than it would be a change.

But... which gender should I try to acquire?

I thought about which I would prefer... and concluded that I shouldn't make any decisions on that basis. "I want to be a such-and-such" seemed like a really bad idea, because after all, I had wanted to commit suicide, I had wanted to slice myself up with sharp objects, I had wanted to drink until I passed out... there was no reason to believe that my judgement would be reliable in this case, either. I'd have to find some other way to make the decision. But how?

"Male" actually had a lot going for it. After all, the world thought that's where I already was! I looked male... although with the hormones, that would change to a certain extent, and we couldn't seem to stop the hormones without having my mood crash, and then drift back to the familiar depression. So hormones might be an issue, but on the plus side, I already had the societal recognition, and the inertia of a life lived in male mode, and the genitalia, um, more or less. All I'd have to do would be to learn to fit in as a man. But would I be able to do it? I'd already had thirty-five years and I had failed to make it work. Could I really learn to "be" a man, particularly when I'd apparently need to spend a lifetime without testosterone in my body?

*That* was the fundamental problem... not gender. Testosterone. My brain just didn't seem to be wired to cope with testosterone.

But... what would it be like to be a woman? Given that I had spent most of my life perceiving gender rather poorly... I had no idea. I didn't even have any particularly good stereotypes to use as a guide. What it would it be like? Different? Sure. Better? I had no idea.

Keep in mind, this whole thought process took place over several years... it was a slow, gradual sort of thing. I didn't sit down one day and say, "Hmm, what should I be?"

In the end, I basically decided not to decide... to just let things progress at their own pace... almost.

I did realize that "female" seemed the most likely answer, given the neuroendocrinology of the situation, so I did what I could to hedge my bets. I started electrolysis, started trying to learn about women's clothes, and basically tried to prepare myself for what seemed likely.

When people started calling me "ma'am", I was rather surprised... but not at all displeased. And gradually, things like using credit cards became rather awkward... "Can I see some ID, ma'am? ... Oh, sorry, *SIR*!" I gradually came to realize that this was really happening... society really was seeing me as a woman. And I was more than ok with it. And it just seemed to work, although I had no idea what the future would bring. So I did the appropriate paperwork to change my name, and got that magical "F" on my driver's license.

That was, oh, a year and a half ago. Since then, things have only gotten better. I have a lot of female friends now, and I enjoy spending time with them. And then there's the whole dating thing, something I had never managed to achieve before.

More importantly, I've had time to listen, observe, and learn what people of both genders are like, and see where I might fit in. The people like me... are the female ones. Except for that whole "I need a $600 purse" thing; that still makes *no* sense to me. But other than that, women just make sense to me; I can identify with them. When I look at men, I tend to giggle a little and wonder how I ever thought I fit in on that side of the world.

So, everything is wonderful, and now I'll get to live happily ever after, right?

Sigh... no. There are problems. Big, scary, unpleasant problems.

Problem #1: The spironolactone that helps suppress my testosterone also suppresses my, um... well, ok, my pooping. I haven't been able to go like a normal person in about two and a half years. Two. And. A. Half. Years. We've tried to stop the spironolactone... I do just fine without it, as long as I don't mind crying twenty hours a day or so. In fact, I do even better emotionally if I take *more* than I do now, but it also gives me screaming headaches, so we can't do that. And, um... let's just say it's rather icky having to keep careful track of whether you did or not, and more often than not, having to take drastic and unpleasant steps because you didn't. I've even been to the emergency room... not fun.

Problem #2: Compensating for the fact that I can't endure enough spironolactone to do the job means that I have to take more estrogen than we'd like me to take... particularly given that we know that I've already had one stroke, although we have no particular reason to guess that it was estrogen-related. I'm definitely at risk for another stroke now, though. As my neurologist said, "Wow, I've never met anyone taking that much estrogen!" We could switch me to a different testosterone suppressant, cyproterone acetate, which only has the minor drawback that it's not legally available for sale in the USA. Or we could randomly try other anti-androgens that tend to have problematic side effects of their own.

Problem #3: One thing that reduces the risk of stroke is aspirin. At least, that's the conventional wisdom at the moment. Except that apparently I can't tolerate long-term aspirin therapy. My guess is that there's still some subtle remaining damage to the blood-brain barrier as a result of the stroke, but I doubt we'll ever know for sure. I do know that after a few months on aspirin, I start having weird, nonspecific fatigue, aches, and pains. Stopping the aspirin makes the problems go away.

Problem #4: My, um, parts "down there" never really were "normal", only normal-ish. I had one surgery when I was a child, and another four or five years ago, to fix some painful problems. But there's still pain down there, sometimes quite a lot of it.

Problem #5: I've been having what seem to be neurological problems. Memory, concentration, and balance all seem to be affected... and it's getting worse. The memory and concentration have gotten bad enough to disrupt my performance at work, and I've already taken a couple of rather unpleasant falls at home due to the balance problem. We don't have an explanation for this yet. It might be due to the high estrogen, or the lack of testosterone, or I might have had another stroke or two, and not noticed.

So all is not wonderful. What can I do about it?

At this point, it seems that having my body produce testosterone is, in general, a bad thing, and anything we can do to minimize that, and reduce my need to rely on drugs to suppress it, would seem to be a big win safety-wise.

So there are two basic choices for that: orchiectomy (removing the testicles), or sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

For the last couple of years, I had regarded SRS as being more-or-less impossible for financial reasons... until my Dad more-or-less volunteered to pay for it, much to my surprise. More on that some other time.

So, I can go either way at this point...

... but quite frankly, I struggle to envision a scenario where I want to have major *elective* abdominal surgery given that I haven't pooped normally in two and half years! Yes, we can do that if we have to, but I doubt it's the best choice right now.

And SRS is no picnic. I'd have to choose a surgeon, and I'd probably need to visit several in various places around the country, and possibly the world. I'd almost certainly need major genital electrolysis before surgery. Then the surgery. Then at least six weeks of recovery time... probably more for me. And, um to put it bluntly, there isn't enough tissue "down there" to do a reasonable vaginoplasty, so I'd need significant skin grafting... and have a second surgical site to heal as well. And then there's dilation: using a surgical stent (fancy name for a big plastic stick) to stretch my new opening, to keep my body from closing it up during the healing process. Weeks and weeks of painful dilation... followed by a lifetime more.

But, really, neither the tummy trouble nor the rather challenging nature of SRS are show-stoppers at this point. There's a more important issue.

My focus, right now, is on learning to live... something I've never really done before. Make a home for myself. Make friends. Learn what it means to be a woman. Figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.

Do I really want to put all of that on hold for several months so somebody can put a big hole in my crotch?

The life is important to me. I've never had one before, and I do want to have one. What I've built for myself so far is very precious to me.

Making my genitals look like every other woman? Yes, that would be nice... for a variety of reasons. I'd like to fit in "down there" too. And maybe more importantly, it would give me important social and legal recognition that I can't get any other way.

But I don't think my health is good enough to endure that right now. I don't think I'm physically *or* emotionally prepared to deal with the pain and trauma. I need more time to grow up, to build my new life, and to improve my health.

So it seems to me that the no-brainer solution is to go for the orchiectomy now, and worry about SRS some other time. My guess is that I'll spend about a year working to get my health back, and plan for SRS sometime in 2007 or 2008, if all goes well.

So, that's my plan, now the only trick is to get everybody to agree to it...

My endocrinologist is on board. He said that it wouldn't be a bad idea if I'm not planning to have SRS soon, gave me the name of a local doctor he's referred other patients to, and said he'd write me a letter of reference when I'm ready.

My therapist... was very, very ambivalent about it. When I finally got brave enough to ask her why, she said, "well..." and proceeded to tell me that sometimes people decide not to have SRS after having an orchiectomy. Apparently SRS is more important to her than it is to me... sigh. Sometimes she seems to understand me, and other times she just doesn't. However, after carefully explaining all of my reasoning, she apparently agrees that it might be prudent for health reasons.

My neurologist... actually, he doesn't seem to mind one way or another, but personally, I want to make sure we understand as much about what's going on with my brain as possible *before* we start making big changes. I talked it over with him, and we're going to be doing another MRI, and a day-long series of neuropsychological tests to try to document and measure my memory and concentration problems, so we can track whether they're getting better or worse over time.

My urologist... well, I don't have one at the moment; the guy who did my surgery down there a few years back has since moved on, and he didn't know about all of this gender stuff... back then, neither did I. So, I have an appointment with a new urologist tomorrow morning. I really don't know what he'll say. As with the neurology, my priority right now is to find out what the current state of things "down there" looks like, and also talk with him about the alternatives. And since one of the alternatives they offered me back then was orchiectomy, I imagine they should be okay with it now, although it wouldn't surprise me if they were perfectly willing to remove the testicles of a mostly-normal man, but reluctant to do so for a transgendered woman. Doctors are sometimes weird in ways like that. With any luck, a good urologist should be able to make the orchiectomy happen, maybe even within my health insurance, since I'm fundamentally seeking it for medical, not cosmetic reasons. Unfortunately, it is very likely that the insurance company and/or the doctor will think, "oh, well, you were a boy and decided you wanted to be a girl, so it's cosmetic!" Idiots. *Nobody* will see the difference, ok? Not even me... at this point, it takes a bit of a search to discover that they're actually down there! (Which makes it a bit difficult to do a self-exam for testicular cancer... which I'm probably also a high risk for.)

With any luck, the urologist will be clueful, so we'll probably do an initial visit, some labs, scrotal and abdominal ultrasound, followup visit... and then, maybe, it will be time to talk about scheduling surgery. I'm guessing we'll get to that point by late February or early March. And keep in mind, the orchiectomy is a simple in-office procedure, even via the inguinal route, which in simple terms means they'll need to come out via the top rather than the bottom. They may want to drug me and drag me to an O.R. so that a bunch of medical students can watch, though. Or maybe I'll end up going to endocrinologist's guy, who is probably in private practice.

I'm also hoping that I can get the urologist to request some fairly detailed tissue pathology; there are some genetic disorders that are only expressed in the DNA of reproductive tissue. While any of these are unlikely to be the root cause of my gender problems, and wouldn't change anything one way or another, the orchiectomy will be the only chance to test that particular tissue, and, honestly, I'd just like to know.

And then there's the psychiatrist... I'll probably need a psych evaluation from a shrink. Since I don't yet know who this will be or what his or her attitude is towards gender disorders, I have no idea what he or she will be like. Probably I'll get a referral from my therapist, who can send me to someone she *knows* has a clue... sigh. I *really* don't like psychiatrists. Their incompetence cost me a decade of my life.

What am I going to do if I can't get everyone on board? Honestly, I don't know. Endure the pain, deal with the pooping problem, and pray that I don't have another stroke. What else can I do?

Most of the objections I've heard tend to be something like, well, are you sure, what if you change your mind, what if you want to go back... stuff like that.

These people are still stuck on the notion that I'm trying to get from point A to point B. And it seems like, no matter how many times I try to explain it, they are simply incapable of understanding that I'm trying to get to point A *or* point B, having never been at either point, ever.

What if I want to "go back"? Well, it wouldn't take much to become a big fat hairy suicidal alcoholic again... all I need to do is stop my meds, get a bad haircut, gain a hundred pounds or so... then I'm only six or eight glasses of wine away from being my former self... I don't really see what my genitalia have to do with anything...

Oh, you mean what if I decide I want to live as a man... well, given that, apparently, I've *never* done so, it honestly doesn't worry me that much... I wouldn't really know where to start, or why! But, honestly, the medical situation is what it is at this point, regardless of which gender I'm living in now, or in the future. The neuroendocrinology has been very stable, and seems unlikely to change. In the unlikely event that I decide to live in some gender other than my current one, it will have to be without testosterone, regardless of what surgeries I end up having. So "what if" doesn't really make a difference, does it? I'll have to deal with it either way.

There's really only one thing that scares me: surgery that alters endocrine function changes the rules yet again for my neurochemistry. It took me a decade to find the right thing to "fix" my brain, and it's been two and a half years of constant fiddling to keep everything working right. When we change the rules... well, we do have good reason to believe that the situation will become simpler and easier to manage. That's why we're considering doing it, after all! But if, by chance, it turns out that we're all wrong... I don't think I would survive another decade in hell searching for a new "fix" for my neurochemistry.

And, so, well, that's where things are right now.

User Journal

Journal: D-things, and Gardening

Journal by SarahAnnAlien

I'm sorry I haven't been able to keep up with my journalling lately; the main reason is that so much is going on in my life right now, I'm having a hard time keeping up with all the changes. Things are happening so fast that I just don't have time to write it all down!

The last thing I wrote about was my d-thing.

My date. My date. My date. My first date ever. Ever.

It, um... well... er... I think I'd have to say it went pretty well.

He's very quiet and shy, so our dinner on Friday was a little awkward since he didn't say much, and then we went to a movie, which was good. Saturday we went to the zoo, and given a shared activity, we were able to talk about what we were looking at, and talk with each other a lot more, and then we had dinner again. On Sunday we saw another movie, and then he went home. He lives about three hours drive from me, which is why we sort of went out three different days in a row; he was in town.

Let's see, that was... only a month ago? Wow.

The weekend before Thanksgiving was our second date. Or would that be fourth, fifth, and sixth dates? I don't know the proper way to count these things when they happen in groups.

We saw a movie... the new Harry Potter one. I didn't think it was as good as the other ones, but I have to admit, I wasn't really paying attention to the movie. And we went out for breakfast twice, and by some quirk of fate, got the same table both times.

And we watched some DVDs at my place... and I made lasagna. First candlelight dinner...

And that's pretty much all I'm willing to say... (blush)

And... he's coming for another visit over the New Year's holiday.

How... odd. And wonderful!

See, I remember when the other kids started doing this sort of thing... where and when I grew up, it started happening in the fifth grade. Whispered conversations. So-and-so likes you-know-who. He likes her? Why? Does she like him? They *held* *hands* at the movies; didn't you hear? Shh, don't tell... and whatever you do, don't tell her that I told you what he said...

It wasn't just that I *didn't* do that. I *couldn't* do it. In fact, I couldn't even really figure out that there was something going on... other than the fact that the other kids were acting weird. I struggled to understand, I asked endless questions, endured inexplicable explanations, and even read books and took notes, desperately trying to understand what it was everyone *else* seemed to be up to. As I got older, I understood intellectually what was happening... but my brain just couldn't *do* that.

Often people think, or assume, that I've somehow always known I was an alien, and that I've spent most of my life carrying a horrible secret, a terrible burden. This simply isn't true. I wasn't hiding anything... except perhaps the absence of something... I could see that something had clearly gone very wrong in my life, but I didn't have the foggiest idea what it was!

And then, about four months after we started to seriously fix my brain chemistry... bing! The little light bulb went off over my head. Hmm... he's kind of cute. Huh? Hey, wait a minute, he *is* kind of cute; what's up with that? Hey, look, mostly naked guys jogging... no, I am *not* going to chase after them. No. NO! And stop staring. Gee, she gives really nice hugs, doesn't she? Um, why am I flirting with this random stranger? Should I be doing this? Why am I having such a hard time NOT flirting with this person... hey, wait a minute, where did I learn how to flirt? Eeek! You... um... you want to have dinner with me? Well... ok?

I'm actually fairly proud of myself for being able to restrain my expectations given what's going on; I'm fully aware that I now have roughly the same social skills as any other fifth grader! Well, maybe a little better than that, but not much. I'm just trying to enjoy what's happening, and take it all as it comes, and wait and see what happens as I grow up. I don't think I can do anything else at this point, actually.

It's a bit terrifying, but oh so exciting! And just plain fun, too.

And it makes me a little sad that my brain developed twenty-five years behind schedule... sigh. So many wasted years.

But I don't entirely mind; I wasn't completely idle during those years, and other parts of me were able to grow, and those parts are part of who I am now. I still grieve for those lost years, and that lost childhood, and yes, if I could, I would have done it differently, but there isn't anything I can do about it now. So I cry a little about that, sometimes, but mostly I enjoy the present whenever I can, and accept whatever it has to offer.

The past was painful, the future is, right now, very uncertain and unpredictable... but right now, life is... pretty good.

I'm going to enjoy right now as long as I can.

I also feel... I'm not sure... something like a cross between relief and gratitude?

After so many years, I had just sort of assumed that I would never have this kind of experience, given that I had missed out at the "proper" time, and now, being an alien and all, there aren't that many people who want to spend time with me, and most of the ones who do... well, they'd expect me to be *much* more grown up than I really am, and I just sort of avoid those kinds of people because I'm just too vulnerable to be exposed to that kind of person. But somehow, I still managed to stumble upon someone who wants to go to the movies with me.

Oh, and that thing where you get to hold hands at the movies? As it turns out, that's really nice.

So, let's see, what else is going on?

I think I forgot to write about my little vegetable garden... I think I'm growing twenty-one kinds of vegetables by now. I think. I kind of lost track. Oh, and there's a drip irrigation system, too. Except that, out on my balcony, which is where the garden is, there's no water, and no electricity. There is, however, a water tank (a.k.a. "the bucket"), a sophisticated pumping system (a.k.a. "wal-mart bilge pump"), 1/2 inch pipe running to an 8-port manifold, and 1/4 inch drip lines going to four 15 inch round pots and two 30 inch window boxes of strawberries. Which covers just about half the plants, at this point. The other six window boxes still need some plumbing. And I don't think I'm going to be able to water the hanging pots; I don't think the pump is strong enough to get the water up that high.

I planted the garden entirely out of season, or in fact, with reckless disregard to season. The important thing to me wasn't doing it "right"; the point was simply to do it. I've always wanted a house with a vegetable garden. There isn't currently a plausible scenario by which I'll *ever* come to have a house of my own. But, once I moved, I had a spacious apartment balcony with a good amount of sun during the day... and I really couldn't think of a good reason I should wait until spring to start planting. I've already spent my whole life waiting for things. So nothing grows. So nothing sprouts. So what? At least I have a garden! Armed with this attitude, I bought a pot, some dirt, some seeds, threw the dirt and seeds into the pot, added some water and a brief pep talk ("ok, if any of you grow, you get your own pot!"... ha, ha, plants will believe *anything* you tell them), and then simply declared that I had a vegetable garden, which I had always wanted.

And I mostly forgot about it... but went out to water my dirt garden a couple of times.

Then one morning, a couple weeks later: "oh my gosh... there are little *green* things poking out of the dirt! ... get the camera, quick, get the camera! Oooh, this is so exciting!" And within another weekend or two there were six window boxes, four big round pots, four hanging pots, a half dozen house plants... and, after another month or so, the compulsory geek irrigation system is starting to take shape. It's only a little bit overboard, honest!

The tomatoes don't seem to be doing anything much at all, which is pretty much what I expected given that I think I planted them at the worst possible time of the season. But the strawberries are actually blooming, and the beans are starting to crawl up their poles. And the swiss chard appears to be preparing to take over the universe... and I don't even know if I *like* swiss chard!

I really never expected anything to grow at all, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Isn't that what plants do? Isn't that what we all do? Even at the wrong time, even in horribly adverse circumstances? As long as the conditions are at least good enough... we grow as best we can, and life goes on.

Sigh... well, that covers two of the gazillion things that are happening right now. I guess it will have to do.

Aren't you glad you're not getting all the government you pay for now?

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