Hail Mary Passes

There are a few things Kris and I can’t talk about, not because she can’t talk about them – Kris can and will talk about anything – but because I don’t seem to be able to.  Kris filibusters. Into the yawning acres of my frequent silence, she throws words, buckets full, truckloads full of words. She pins hopes and dreams on those words and tosses them at me, sometimes hurls them at me, hoping and dreaming that I will catch one of her hail mary passes in the end zone, while I make the yard by yard plays sometimes gaining, sometimes losing ground.

In the 13 years we’ve been together we’ve settled into this dynamic. I settle for yardage. She throws for the touchdown. “You are eloquent in your despair,” she says. And I suppose I am.

We seem to navigate money, parenting and home repair better than most.  Balloons, fingernails and injured animals are on my list of taboo subjects.  I will flat out leave the room. In the last few years, my transition has become a taboo subject. Not its existence, but the continuing journey of it.

The final piece, at the 30 yard mark, 3rd down, are the surgeries required to build a functioning male organ. It’s painful for me to even type this paragraph about it, so full of shame, guilt and fear am I.

My struggle with this part of my body is so personal, so individual, so bitterly lonely that it is dangerous. It renders me silent. And yet, as a couple, partnered in every way, intimate to our cores, this piece is shared territory. We have to navigate around it to stay connected.

In a perfect world, I would simply make an appointment, have the surgeries and heal. Life would move on, the giant wall would be gone and we wouldn’t spend the rest of our lives with the sacrifices that would require. We would still have our house, our pets, our bookstore and our dignity. I would feel whole in my body, and we wouldn’t have to avoid the subject.

It isn’t a perfect world, and while I’m trying to come to terms with a punt, Kris is still trying the hail mary pass. “The money,” I say. “We have to make a plan,” she says. “We can’t even repair the kitchen,” I say. “We make choices,” she says.  It’s breathtaking, her strange optimism, her single focus on my well being. If the roles were reversed, I hope I would do the same.

But the roles aren’t reversed, and here I am trying to fit into an ill-fitting body so those good things about our life, and there are just so many good things, don’t disappear on my account. Today I wondered how I would feel if she just gave up and let it go like I’ve been trying to do and realized with a shock (and more guilt) that I was depending on her hope.  I was looking at it from way down here in the end zone by myself hoping that she would, once again lob it high into the sky and I would see it hang there in the air somewhere between her and me and be grateful that she trusted me again to catch it.


Size Zero: On Being a Big Guy

Village Square Mall, circa – well, always.

In the mid eighties I was a size zero.  I know this because I went to Glik’s in the Village Square Mall in Effingham, IL to shop with my sister and my friend when I was about 13.  I shopped then like I do now:

Friend – “Oh, you would look awesome in this.”

Me – “Nah, I don’t really like to try on clothes” (while looking longingly at Rural King’s selection of coveralls).

Friend – “Ok, well what do you think of this outfit?”

Me, approximating proper mid-western teenage girl social skills – “Um, yeah.  Looks fine.  Zippers on the ankles of your pleated jeans are a classic look.”

On this particular shopping trip, I found a pair of pants that were a size zero.  I don’t remember what the pants looked like or why that day of all days I tried on girl clothes, but that crumb of knowledge – that my size officially didn’t exist – scratched an itch that is very fundamental to the cohesion of my sibling hierarchy.

Yes, my sisters could pinch and bruise their stomachs grasping for the Special K inch and pretend to be frustrated with the miniscule fold of skin in their grasp while looking at the rest of the population of Effingham High School with mild pity.  But could they, in the darkest of night tucked into the bunk-beds and trundle beds, could they say that they had succeeded in actually erasing themselves?

I could.

I’ve never found another pair of size zero pants, but I’ve held that with me for 27 years. The secret weapon. Concealed carefully. Carried deeply.

My size – which from that moment forward was zero, invisible, no matter how much I weighed – was the baseline.  The blank slate.

Every hair, change, scar and pound after that were evidence that either needed to be displayed as proof of my worth or hidden to disguise my lack thereof.  I never weighed myself obsessively, and didn’t jump on  the binge/purge merry-go-round.

I just kept score.

Scars on my hand and wrist from flipping my best friend’s grandma’s car into a cornfield in eighth grade – Fortitude and survival.

Slight dent in my forehead at my hairline – Chickenpox scar. My get out of jail free pass in the presence of all toddlers with viruses.

My adolescent angst was written on my body. I grew hips and breasts and got pregnant and gave birth to my son before my twenty-first birthday.  That same year, three of my sisters had sons.

Stretch marks on my belly and chest – Badge of parenthood/Scarlet I for Inadequate motherhood.

I gained 45 pounds after I started taking testosterone when I turned 30.  Those pounds attached themselves to me gradually, like many profound changes do.  The first ten was happy weight – good food, the right woman in my life, the right life.  Then slowly the weight started to count differently.

The baseline had changed.  My units of measuring were different.  Men are bigger, and my size zero had been adjusted for inflation.

The next fifteen were attached to the bookstore where I work.

Thickening midsection – Evidence that I’m substantial enough to run a business.

Plus a pound or two for stress. A few ounces here and there for loneliness.  More weight to insulate miscellaneous guilt.  The final bulk is overcompensation.

My sisters stayed virtually the same size with some fluctuation while I grew larger and hairier, but I stayed, as always, peripheral.  Exempt.  Invisible.

Recently, I consulted with a few doctors to consider bottom surgery, and know with relative certainty that funding this kind of thing is next to impossible.

And yet.

6 inch vertical scar through my abdominal muscle and around my belly button – Emergency abdominal surgery.  Proof that after unspeakable pain, the clouds part.  The impossible is possible.

Regardless of the donor site for a phalloplasty, being a healthy weight is important to the surgery, and after all, what could it hurt to get fit? To avoid my usual anxiety and stave off the impending doom, I decided that even though I haven’t found a way to complete this final part of my transition, I would focus on something I could control –  losing my extra pounds.

After “running” 5 miles on the elliptical machine every day and eating smoothies and weeds for several weeks, I had stalled.  No weight loss.  My clothes didn’t fit differently.  Doom did start to settle in, but buried within it was something small and concealed.  An itch.  A grim shadow self inside me was strangely, horribly, satisfied.  In a buried recess of my brain I am hoarding my bulk.

As a few pounds finally faded away I started to feel myself panicking as the trophies and evidence of my existence disappeared.  My life in a female body depended on remaining invisible.  My life as a man became, in part, about physically existing, pushing beyond size zero.  I find myself clinging to the credentials packed into my thick chin, lumpy midsection and hips as if I’m going to lose myself.  As if I’m going to be unveiled as a fraud once my disguise as a “big” guy slips.

I’m not obese, just fifteen or twenty pounds this side of normal BMI according to the internet.  My challenge isn’t so much to lose the weight but to travel back through the collecting of it.  To unpack all of the evidence and have a good hard look at it once and for all.