The night before my flight I had to sleep over at Mom and Dad’s so that I could get to the airport on time. In their fold-out bed I had a long, exhausting dream where I try in vain to find a certain place until the very end when the place seems to find me. There are a bunch of people I have passed during the dream without recognizing their significance. Two of them are women on either side of me. They are angry with me for not having recognized them earlier. As they begin to die, dematerializing from human form into something yellow and gross that decomposing testicles might look like, an overpowering force enters the dream saying that this is the wrath of God. A moment later someone is calling my boy name. It was my mother rousing me from sleep.In Florida I told Matthew and Joe the dream. Joe asked what I thought it meant. First, all the searching, in the dream, reflected my exhaustive contemplation about the personal meaning of being physically castrated. I knew that it would be impossible to proceed with my life without my orchiectomy, but I had not been close enough to the event, time-wise, to deal with how I felt about losing a part of my body. The dream showed the parts of my body to be removed as angry with me, as spurned women would feel. As I carried the awareness of this anger to Florida with me, I was even more serious and focused than I had been in the days just prior to flight.
The anger and death of the two women related to the personal and material aspect of my orchiectomy, while the overpowering force showed its impersonal and spiritual aspect.
Hurricane Wilma had recently passed through southern Florida and there was still a lot to be cleaned up. The palm trees were broken and coconuts were all over the place. Wilma was Fred’s wife, the force of the prehistoric feminine.
On my first day there I decided to walk to Dr. Reed’s just to see where it was. I had the address memorized, but confused the zip code with the number of the building, so I didn’t find it. I returned to the motel feeling incompetent and a little upset. The motel was called the Whitehouse because it had a rounded façade with columns and flags. A shiny black Buddha presided atop the reception desk. It seemed unlikely that there had ever been a Buddha in the President’s Whitehouse. My room was really big, and had a kitchenette and a balcony that looked onto a canal as well as Biscayne Bay. I was happy.
I went to a Jewish, vegetarian restaurant that was so good I had every single meal there. When I stepped in the staff was greeting me from a few feet away, but I could not see them, and stepped forward uncertainly. I heard them greet me again, but still I did not see them and felt disoriented. Finally, one came up to me and said, “Sit anywhere you like.” I hated when my poor vision made me seem like a weirdo, which was usual when I was in a new place‹so I hated going anywhere new and so going to Florida alone made me quite anxious. I was eager for the arrival of my brothers the next day. That night I went to sleep with the balcony door open and listened to sound of the water as I drifted off. It was peaceful.
In the morning I took a cab to my eight o’clock appointment for my initial consultation with Dr. Reed. I waited for Dr. Reed to receive me in a waiting room. The chairs, seats, and sofas were plush and aristocratic. The room was lit by a huge, faux skylight. Large, masterfully executed paintings of the feminine, in ornate, golden frames, were on all the walls. The largest showed twin girls wearing identical blue dresses. They are looking at their mother who is in a black gown, smiling pleasantly from a chaise lounge. One of the girls is sitting on the back of the family dog, which is several times her size. The dog’s expression seems to say that he bears her weight dutifully. I could relate to the dog from the times when I dutifully accepted myself, letting the feminine preside atop me. I was becoming more like the girl presiding atop the dog.
Everything in the center was quite beautiful and constructed from fine materials; the bathroom of black marble and the floor of the main hallway white marble. It was a center for sexual reassignment, but also felt like a well-kept temple.
I was presenting as male, except for women’s jeans. However, once I was admitted through the waiting room door I was addressed as a woman, and responded accordingly: it was quite amazing how differently I felt and behaved when people acceptingly acknowledged me as female. My posture, gestures and movement became composed and graceful. My voice changed, too, and Dr. Reed even complimented me on its “register,” which made me feel very good‹as if I existed to him. Outside of his office I had little existence to anyone compared to how much people normally existed to others. I had not a meaningful social relationship in eight years.
Though Dr. Reed was middle-aged, his face was youthful. In his demeanor and the deftness of his movements I perceived that he was the master of every detail of the center. He moved around in it as seamlessly as a spirit. Since it was a new place for me, I moved from chamber to chamber uncertainly, like a rock on practiced legs. Then, when my body was stationary‹seated or lying on the examination table–my femininity gently snaked out.
Dr. Reed asked me if I had any questions about the procedure. “Yes…but I’m not remembering them…” “Take as much time as you need,” he said.
One of them came to me. It was about the suture. He said it would dissolve in two weeks.
I paused, and said, “I guess that’s it.”
“Great, Amy. Let’s go to the examination room so I can look you over.” Inside, he said, “I’d like you to take everything off, including your panties.” Marianna came in and stood by the door. “She has beautiful skin, doesn’t she?” he asked her.
“Yes, she does,” said Marianna.
“Thank you,” I said humbly. I felt special.
Afterward, as I was dressing Marianna cleaned the examination table off with alcohol. The center was immaculate.
Back in Dr. Reed’s office, he asked me what I did. I replied that I was a writer. “What do you write?” he asked.
“I’m working on a long memoir, but I also write children’s stories and essays; all kinds of things.”
“Have you ever been published?”
“A couple times.” Since it was plain that I couldn’t pay for my surgery just from being published a couple times, I admitted, “My parents are paying for the surgery. I think they feel sorry for me.”
“Parents. Isn’t it great to have parents?” said Dr. Reed heartily, and mindfully, “All the times they met me at the airport…”
“Amy, I really like you,” said Dr. Reed, “When you come back for your SRS we’ll do something special for you.” I felt that he was saying this because he felt guilty for making me wait so long, but he repeated it every time we met over the next couple of days. I was afraid that if I told him I planned to have the Wilson procedure (formation of the vagina with a segment of the colon), and to keep my penis, that I would seem less of a woman to him, so, instead, I thanked him. Anyway, I was primarily concerned with passing as a woman so remaking my face was important than making my vagina. Dr. Reed reiterated wanting to do something special for my SRS to Marianna. She asked smiling, “What will we do? Bake her a cake?”
I didn’t mention that I didn’t eat sweets.
For our initial correspondence Dr. Reed had written very kind and cordial e-mails. Once I was finally there he treated me fondly, and called me “sweetheart” and “darling.” I wanted to let his endearments touch me. I was tired of how rarely kindness interrupted my ongoing isolation. I loved kindness when it was sincere, but I was unsure about the dimensions of sincerity in the context of a medical relationship such as ours.
After the surgery, while I was in the recovery room, my brother Joe told me that all the paintings were signed “Reed.” When Dr. Reed came in Joe asked him if he was the Reed who had done them. “Yes,” he answered shortly, and attended to something else, apologizing, saying that things were “a bit high-strung.”
My whole perception of Dr. Reed then shifted entirely so that I thought of him as an artist who honored women more than being doctorly allowed him to reveal. Because of this I felt more genuinely cared for. Joe wondered what his story was. I did, too. There was no time to ask him.
When my brothers and I arrived for the surgery I was not nervous at all. Joe seemed a little edgy. Matthew was as stony as ever. I felt safe and protected to have them near. Marianna gave me a bunch of directions about where to go and about changing into the gown. I hesitated, going over them in my mind for fear that I would do something wrong. She repeated them and I walked down the hall, trying to guess what to do next. “Go right, right there,” she called.
I pointed to a doorway. “Yes,” she said.
In an antechamber to a bathroom there were some lockers where I was supposed to leave my clothes. Inside my locker I expected to find the gown, but there was none. Jody ducked in and asked, “Do you have a gown?”
“No,” I said.
“There it is,” he said pointing into the bathroom. The bathroom was clean and shiny. The floor was smooth on my bare feet. There were no little flecks of crud on it, like on ordinary floors. Jody then led me to the operating room. It was like being home. I belonged there. It was mine. Around the table there was a lot of space. I would have danced had there been no tasks. I put my tender butt up onto the table. As Jody got me prepped, a beep-beep-beep sound started up in the room. “What’s that sound?” I asked.
“That’s your heart,” said Jody.
I was gazing at the oversized, overhead light fixtures. Dr. Reed came in and greeted me. “Hi,” I said pensively.
“Are you ready for this, Amy?” asked the doctor.
“Yes, I am,” I replied with gladness. Jody laughed a little.
Dr. Reed set up intravenous sedation and secured my arm in place with a Velcro strap. He said, “This is so you don’t try to help us with operation.” I laughed.
“This is going to pinch,” said Dr. Reed as he readied the Novocain.
“Is it going to hurt?”
“We have to get it deep into the nerve,” he said.
“Thanks for warning me.”
A cool drop seeped out from the syringe and fell onto my genitals, rolling sensually down between scrotum and thigh. It felt nice. Then the needle went in. “Ooh, ow,” I said wincing and sucking in air.
“It’s okay to emote, Amy. It let’s us know how you are doing.”
“Okay. I’m not a tough guy,” I said.
After a bunch of shots Dr. Reed asked, “Can you feel this?”
I answered no and he went to work. All I felt from him was some pulling. Otherwise, the sedative was making me feel quite euphoric.
There was a fourth person in the room named Lyle. He was standing off to the side. I never saw him. He was from a company that was giving me $500 for my testicles. They were being used for research on how cell division related to aging. Since aging began when cell division stopped, the theory was, apparently, that if cell division could be enhanced aging would slow. I knew when each testicle had been removed because Dr. Reed would take it to Lyle and drop it in his magic bag. After the second one, Lyle went away.
“What’s that funny smell?” I asked Dr. Reed.
“It’s the cautery,” he answered, “for your tubes.”
“I didn’t realize you were going to cauterize me. I thought you were going to stitch me.”
“We cut them high so that we don’t leave a Tootsie Roll behind.”
As Jody was pushing me out of the office in a wheelchair, Dr. Reed was smiling to me. I was smiling back. He cupped the back of my head in his hand as he told me goodbye. I was scheduled to return in two days to have the dressing removed.
In the meantime, I was limited to bed-rest. Joe and Matthew, but mostly Joe, took good care of me with fresh icepacks for the swelling and food from the Jewish-vegetarian place. Once, Joe shooed away housekeeping, saying, “She’s sleeping.”
It was amazing how my confidence as a girl swelled just from polite interaction with Dr. Reed and his staff. Also, the operation itself helped in that it augmented my right to be myself. With Joe and Matthew my voice sometimes came out female. It never had before in front of any family member. It was my instinct to accommodate people’s expectations of me in order to avoid making them feel uncomfortable. When I made people uncomfortable I felt uncomfortable. The simplest solution had been to keep up male appearances and stay miserable.
Joe suggested that we have a funeral for George. I thought it was a good idea. We hoped it would help the transition, but weren’t sure what our parents would think of it.
After the Novocain wore off I was sore. I moved slowly and gingerly. I slept a lot, and when I was awake I was blissful. I felt peaceful in a way that had never been possible before. Everything was perfect and right. In my dreams angels were singing in a future world that was aware of itself. I awoke from them as Amy with sweet, small erections.
Matthew had a dream where he is driving a car and hits another car, but cannot stop to deal with it because he is late for a class. He remarked, “It was a bad dream.”
I thought the dream might have been about me; that his car had struck mine, but he couldn’t deal with it because there was something he needed to go off and learn. It reminded me of the difficulty we had communicating during the half-year he had lived with me, when I had instinctually accommodated how he was not ready to see me as a girl, as I did everyone who was not ready for it. The concepts of me, of all the people who knew me, were intransigent compared to my self-concept, which was always evolving, but only had been in seclusion. I could only fantasize about how transformative it could be to be Amy in a relationship with continuity and substance. At least, I was coming out with Joe and Matthew a little, but after our few days in Florida, they would be gone.
After I was sitting up, Matthew spent a lot of time helping me edit my book, while Joe occupied himself taking hundreds of pictures with his new digital camera. While Matthew and I were talking on the balcony beside the lapping water and light blue moon, Joe excused himself in getting by us to perch on the railing to photograph us from a new angle.
I went back to Dr, Reed’s to have the dressing removed, and so he could take a look at me. Marianna pulled it off very gently so as not to cause me pain by yanking out hairs. As she proceeded, she was saying, “Oh, oh, I hope that’s okay. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It’s fine,” I said, but she kept fretting, so I revealed that I had shaved before the surgery so there was nothing there to tear out.
“You did a good job,” she said, “Usually when people shave themselves, it’s a mess. You do have good skin.”
“It’s much nicer than mine.”
“Ohhh,” I intoned modestly, lowering my head.
After she was done and the dressing was off I sat up to look. “Yep, they’re gone,” she said. I was quite amazed at what was still there; a nice purple bruise, an inch-long, suture down the center and the scrotum was moist and bunched up from the confinement. It felt like labia.
Dr. Reed neatened up the suture and then he and Marianna cleaned the gunky adhesive off of me. It was like being a baby, and that felt nice. I hoped I would feel that again someday.
As I was leaving Dr. Reed held out his hand for me to shake, and I opened my arms to hug. I often hugged people with my hands closed, but they were open. I released the hug, but he didn’t. He kept holding me till it was more real than polite. I didn’t like having to leave behind things that felt real, and felt clumsy as I moved away, toward the door. Since I had been literally cut into reality at the center, it was a very real place to me. Part of me wanted to stay and be operated on more.
The sense of purposefulness I had come to Miami with was fading. The Florida sun had clouded over. Joe had left early in the morning. Matthew and I had to check out of the Whitehouse by eleven and the shuttle bus wasn’t coming till three. We gorged ourselves in the Jewish-vegetarian restaurant and then went to a park to edit my work. He had become an adept editor. He said that when he was editing he went into a trance.
As he was going through “She Will Sew Long,” the chapter of my book where Georgie dumps me and I leave for Hungary, he noted that in the clownishness, brokenness, and rage of my character there was something missing. “Why aren’t you more of a man?”
I explained that at the time, I was a man in my clownishness and rage, and my femininity was shameful so I kept it tightly guarded, even from myself, so that I couldn’t even feel it. “That’s what’s missing,” he said. I felt as if I speaking to him from the self that had been tightly guarded, that was there all along, waiting for the opportunity to save me, as if I was becoming her before his eyes.
Dad met me at the airport in Boston. He was smiling and said, “Hi, Amy.” It was the first time I had heard him call me that.
I gave him a big hug, like the one I’d had with Dr. Reed, and said, “Thank you, Daddy.”