Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Breaking Out of a Sexual Prison

Have you ever been abruptly awakened from a deep sleep—except your body didn’t wake up? You were consciousness within a shell you didn’t command. I felt that experience only once. It was terrifying. For the agonizing moments I spent struggling to reconnect with myself, I couldn’t avoid asking, “What if I never wake up? What if I’m stuck within for the rest of my physical life?” I was sweating when my eyes finally snapped open.

I’ve read that certain coma patients suffer the same feelings—having awareness but no mastery. What if you have command, but you wake in the wrong body? The control panel is all wrong. No one can see you as you see yourself. It’s not the gender you know you are. Wouldn’t that be just as upsetting?

My small town used to be famous—or infamous, depending on your point of view—as the “Sex Change Capital of the World.” When I arrived, I had only barely heard of sex change operations. It sounded painful. I had seen a man clomping around in heels and wearing a blonde wig, preparing for his transformation. I thought he must have possessed immense courage to face the derision. I was told the original doctor who performed the procedures did so for two reasons:  the tiny hospital needed funds to survive, and he had encountered transgender people who were desperate for help.

Many people in town were delighted when the last “sex change surgeon” departed for a more accommodating venue. The operations offended their sense of morality. They didn’t want the patients walking their streets. But I wasn’t glad. The surgeon had also been my gynecologist. She was a skillful surgeon who saved the lives of local people whose operations didn’t involve switching. Although she had begun her medical career as a man, she had been a recipient of one of the earlier sex change operations. I wondered what she would be like to have as a gynecologist. Who could be better informed than someone who had experienced both ends of the gender continuum? Would I feel weird with her?

I didn’t feel weird. Women have a sense for other women, and she was another woman. Period. I told her I felt confident she had been intended to be a female when her fetal brain was programmed. She smiled. When I sat in the waiting room before my appointments, I often sat with her surgery patients. From them I felt the excitement of a prisoner finally set free.

Recently, my husband and I watched THE DANISH GIRL—based on a true story of the 1920’s—with Eddie Redmayne playing the lead and Alicia Vikander winning an Oscar for her role as his wife. Redmayne did a masterful job of portraying the despair of being labeled insane when he felt like a normal woman inside. Although he loved his wife dearly, the painter risked his life rather than continue to live in the wrong body. I remembered the patients I had seen.

Psychology teaches that each of us has aspects of both genders, even if we consider ourselves strictly single gender. But which of us could force ourselves to adopt another gender identity? When I flinched as the sex change patients first came through the door of my doctor’s office, I knew I was flinching because there’s a whole realm of reality that I don’t understand. I was the one who was having trouble accepting the world as it was designed.

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