The Real Life Test

Chapter One
Preparation

April - November 1993


Contents

Introduction
Chapter One: 1993
Chapter Two: November 30-December 16
Chapter Three: December 17-January 1
Chapter Four: January 1994
Chapter Five: February 1994
Chapter Six: March 1994
Chapter Seven: April 1994
Chapter Eight: May 1994
Chapter Nine: June 1994
Chapter Ten: July 1994
Chapter Eleven: August 1994
Chapter Twelve: September 1994
Chapter Thirteen: October 1994
Chapter Fourteen: November 1994
Epilogue


The Vieux Carré Corporate Apartments were completely furnished, convenient to my office, and for lease by the month. I sat at the dining table and tried to organize the rest of my life.

I expected to take at least a year, possibly two, before making the final break with my past and living full time as a woman. I thought I needed that much time to make it financially feasible. Preparing for transition would be an expensive proposition. I listed the areas of concern:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Hormones
  • Electrolysis
  • Plastic surgery
  • Wardrobe

Without success in each of these areas, I would have difficulty living as a woman physician.

I had been in psychotherapy for nearly a year. My therapist was not at all surprised by my decision to transition. Although I had begun seeing him with the idea I was a crossdresser, he had recognized my transsexualism almost before I accepted it. We continued our weekly sessions, and he encouraged me to contact Dr. Powell, the therapist who works with the Montgomery Institute in Atlanta. James Powell, Ph.D., is an ordained Methodist minister who treats many persons with transsexualism. I made an appointment for an initial visit and psychological profile testing to be done in early May.

The Institute also provided a group therapy hour each week, as well as a less formal monthly support group. Now I would be able to make new friends who shared my life experience.

I suspected it would be necessary to leave Jackson to make my transition. The general conservatism and small town attitude, combined with my very visible position as a physician, would make for a very difficult and public transition experience. Atlanta seemed a natural choice to start a new life, and I decided to move there to look for a new practice situation.

I also found good support in the computer online service CompuServe. Their Adult Support Group Forum contained a section called "Genderline", which was a bulletin board where both crossdressers and transsexuals could share ideas and information. I made many friends, literally around the world. Several times a week, often daily, I would log on, sending and receiving messages, sharing information.

I would need an endocrinologist later, but I had already used my expertise as a physician to good advantage. I had been taking a combination of estrogen, progesterone, and spironolactone (an antiandrogen) for a year and a half. My breasts had developed to a full B cup, and my body fat had changed dramatically. I had much more fat around my hips, and none around the waist. My muscle bulk had decreased and I had lost nearly forty pounds. Already, not knowing the reason for the changes, people were voicing concern about my health. They didn't realize the changes were intentional, and most welcome.

I needed to begin electrolysis immediately. I called my friend Sandra, who managed an electrolysis clinic in Jackson. After a long discussion, we agreed it would be best for me to begin my treatments in another city. That would prevent my being seen by any of my patients or hospital employees, since I was still trying to make my changes in secret.

Sandra called a colleague in New Orleans and scheduled an appointment for me. From that time, until I left Jackson in December, every Thursday was the same. I made hospital rounds, saw a few office patients, and left early. By 2:00 P.M. I was at the electrology office. I would lie on a treatment table for three or four hours while the electrologist inserted a needle into my hair follicles and treated each one with high energy current. By mid-May I had been completely cleared for the first time, and thereafter we tried to treat all the regrowth on each visit.

At least, when I finished each session, I found myself in New Orleans at suppertime. One can be in worse places.

I studied my face in the mirror. It was not a passable female face, I believed. The Adam's apple had to go. I needed a rhinoplasty to make the nose less prominent and correct an old fracture. The bags under the eyes certainly needed attention. My upper lip was too thin. And then there was the area of baldness at the crown...

Surely in Atlanta there was a facial plastic surgeon who had worked on transsexual patients. It only took a few telephone calls to find Dr. Silver. I composed a long letter describing my circumstances and wishes, and received a prompt reply scheduling an appointment for the same weekend I was going to Atlanta to have my first visit with Dr. Powell. Dr. Silver would see me and make recommendations for a comprehensive "facial feminization" procedure. I also made plans to see a scalp specialist about possible scalp reduction, flap or hair transplants.

My wardrobe would be built slowly. I could no longer buy simply party clothes; I would need outfits for business and casual wear. I began scanning women's catalogs for ideas. I also knew my size would continue to change as I lost weight. Wisely I kept from buying the larger sizes, as I went from a size 16 to a size 10 in less than a year.

It was difficult to shop for women's clothing while dressed as a man, but I did not yet feel comfortable enough with my appearance to be a confident, relaxed shopper en femme. Certainly I wouldn't try to visit a fitting room yet. Occasionally I would take home a purchase and find it did not fit well at all; thank goodness for refunds. As the months passed, my appearance became more androgynous. I'm sure the salespersons had me figured out; but they realized my money would be as good as anyone's, so they were very pleasant to me.

May arrived and I drove to Atlanta for my busy weekend. I checked into the same motel used by Tri-Ess for their monthly meetings, not realizing they were having the May meeting that weekend. My meeting with Dr. Silver was very productive. Using a video camera, he photographed my face from multiple angles and retouched the image to show how he could give me a very feminine facial appearance. The procedure would involve six oomponents. I was familiar with the rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty (eyelids) and tracheal shave (reduction of the Adam's apple). In addition he recommended a small chin implant to give symmetry to the face, and liposuction of fatty tissue under the jaws. Finally he suggested a simple procedure to give fullness to the upper lip.

We set a date of August 10 for the surgery. I could hardly believe I was taking such a major step. What would I look like afterwards and how would persons in Jackson react to me?

I awoke Saturday morning and prepared for my day of psychological testing and counseling. At breakfast I saw some persons I knew from Tri-Ess. They beckoned me to join them. "Oh, why not?" I said to myself. "Everyone at this motel knows about us anyway."

I was wearing a T-shirt and a denim skirt. Everyone at the breakfast table was dressed to the nines. "They'll have fun at the mall today," I thought. I noticed one person wearing jeans and a Henley top and immediately migrated to her.

One of my old friends introduced us. "Becky, this is Angela."

We began a conversation. In lowered tones she confided to me, "I'm very uncomfortable here with this crowd."

"I know what you mean," I agreed. "Not entirely appropriate for a summer Saturday."

"It's just that I feel so out of place. You see, I'm transsexual."

I had known it. With a wink I mouthed silently, "Me too!" I soon had to be on my way, but we planned to visit further that night.

At the psychologists' office I was given the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and a handful of number 2 pencils. I understood that the test was not to diagnose transsexualism. Only after repeated individual therapy sessions would Dr. Powell arrive at that diagnosis. The purpose of the test was to identify my strengths and weaknesses, to see areas that needed improvement to help me with a successful transition. After writer's cramp from hundreds of questions, I finally finished.

Dr. Powell was a personable, easily approachable man who looked only slightly older than me. His smile reassured me I could be as open with him as I had been with Dr. Cobb, my therapist in Jackson.

He had counseled dozens of transsexual persons over the years. I could see no hint of any discomfort in his relating to me, and I felt he understood and accepted me. He agreed with the planning I had begun. However, he did not think I would wait several years to transition. I realized the imperative to change was growing ever stronger, and after my facial surgery I would probably begin serious transition plans.

My MMPI results revealed two areas that needed attention. "First of all," he noted, "You scored too low to measure on the assertiveness scales. You really don't make a very good boss, do you? Can you fire an employee?"

I was amazed he knew so precisely. "Oh, no," I laughed. "I've never fired anyone." He reminded me I would have to learn to be more assertive to succeed in this radical life change.

"The other finding is this: you don't just want people to accept you, you want them to like you. You will have to get used to the fact that some people just will not like you because of this transition, and there is nothing you can do about it."

After individual therapy I went to an hour of group therapy and met quite a few people under similar circumstances. There were persons older and younger than me; females becoming males as well as males becoming females; blacks and whites. At such a first meeting I knew I could not remember everyone. I knew I would see them all frequently; I intended to come to Atlanta at least once a month.

I returned to the motel and did find Angela; we were able to visit for several hours. I realized she and I had much in common: spouses, children, good jobs; all of which would be in jeopardy with the transition. She lived in Charlotte and had ridden to Atlanta with two Tri-Ess members, thinking the weekend would not be very enjoyable. We were so glad to have met. We decided to make plans to stay together at a different hotel in June, and she determined to help me recuperate from my surgery in August.

The next few months saw more changes in my appearance as I lost weight, let my hair grow, and became more feminized with the hormones. My weekly electrolysis sessions caused me to stop shaving, and for several months I still had visible beard in between treatments. Sometimes people would comment on my unshaven appearance. By late August there was no longer much beard visible.

Friends called and came to visit, wanting to understand the reasons for our separation. For most of them I offered an explanation of incompatibility, not dealing with my transition. A few meant so much to me I felt I had to confide. They all had much difficulty dealing with the news, probably because I had so diligently concealed my gender conflict over the years. It hurt to hear them say they thought I was making a terrible mistake; but I tried to understand their point of view. Perhaps later some would become more accepting.

I remained in the Vieux Carré apartment. The telephone conversations with Sheryl, my spouse, became gradually less strained. For some time I returned to her house to do yard work, but by late summer she had found a neighborhood teenager for those chores. I seldom saw Mark, my son, but we continued to have a fairly cordial relationship. I cried when I read his Father's Day card, knowing I probably would never receive another one.

I had a spare bedroom in the condominium. At Lee Frances's I had met another transsexual person, MIchelle Kelly, who lived in Louisiana but was working in several locations around Mississippi. I offered her use of the bedroom when she was close to Jackson. Michelle and I had little in common but our gender conflict; but we enjoyed each other's company and spent many evenings sharing our past experiences.

Over the July 4 weekend Michelle and I went to New Orleans to visit with several of her friends. It was an opportunity to spend three full days in my new role, and I adapted very well. At least no one treated us with hostility in the "City Which Care Forgot." Shortly afterwards, Michelle's work transferred her to Georgia, to a little town about eighty miles from Atlanta. I wondered if I would see her again.

In August I disclosed to Mark for the first time about my transsexualism. He did not take it very well, although he was cordial and told me he couldn't judge me for doing what I felt I had to do. He simply was unprepared for such major news about his father. How I wished I had had the courage and understanding to be truthful with him years ago! We continued to talk on the telephone occasionally, but he never visited me in person again. I have grieved more over losing our close relationship than over any aspect of my transition.

The day after Mark's visit, I packed and drove to Atlanta for my facial plastic surgery. Dr. Silver performed a six component procedure: blepharoplasty of upper and lower lids; rhinoplasty; liposuction under the jaws; revision of the upper lip vermillion border; chin implant; and tracheal shave. The entire procedure lasted four hours. Afterwards I was sedated and heavily bandaged as Angela drove me back to the motel. She was an excellent nurse for several days.

Toward the end of the week I had an appointment with a dermatologic surgeon who specialized in hair replacement. His opinion, after examination, was that my hair was too thin to tolerate a scalp reduction at this time. "Perhaps after more hormones and Rogaine. For now, I would like to recommend someone who can give you a custom hairpiece." He gave me the number for a salon in south Atlanta. Charles and Gina, the owner and manager, were supportive and helpful. I chose the look I wanted and they formed a plaster cast of my scalp. We ordered two hairpieces, in my own natural hair color and texture. These hairpieces would be made in India and finished in the plant in Los Angeles before being shipped here for fitting.

During this week I made friendships with many persons in Atlanta's gender community who would be my friends throughout my real life test. I also contacted my Atlanta cousin Jerry, who had always been a supportive friend. To my relief, he and his wife were very positive about my living in Atlanta, and were anxious to see me once I moved.

Angela stayed for five days before leaving me in much better shape, and I was able to return to Jackson by myself. I agreed to come to Charlotte for her "birthday and coming out" party in September. She was also considering moving to Atlanta to transition.

In retrospect, the trip to Charlotte was the last straw. Most people in Jackson knew something was changed about me; they saw my weight loss, uncut hair, and strange things happening with my beard. But two things happened on my trip that let the news become public.

I flew from Jackson to Charlotte en femme. I took pains to look my professional best, and was confident about my appearance. My voice, however, still needed some work. I think it was my voice that got me "clocked" on the airplane by one of the other doctors on the staff at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. He scrutinized this person connected to my voice and concluded it was me. Within two weeks, the rumor of my upcoming "sex change" was all over Jackson.

The other item that made my intentions public was a bit foolish on my part, but I enjoyed it. While in Charlotte, several of us visited the Eastland Mall for Angela to pick up some items related to the party. When we passed the Piercing Pagoda, they all turned to me (the only one without pierced ears) and said, "I dare you."

It was a dare I couldn't refuse. To my surprise, the piercing gun was nearly painless. I looked in the mirror: gold studs. Too cool! But how could I hide them? On return to Jackson I tried the old fishing-line trick to conceal the piercing, but to no avail.

Now everyone was certain: either I was gay and had AIDS, or I was "one of those sex changes." I had a long talk with my partner, who was becoming very uncomfortable. Indeed, in conservative Jackson, we were noticing a drop off in our referrals of patients from certain doctors. I was a full partner and could have stayed; but I chose to leave. I agreed to practice through the end of November and then I would move to Atlanta.

In early November Angela and I got together in Atlanta and found a condominium in Roswell for a very reasonable price. She would plan to move from Charlotte and start her new life at the same time. Transition "on the buddy system" seemed a unique and reasonable idea. Also at this time I received my new custom hairpieces. Gina treated me so kindly and became my friend over the subsequent months as she taught me how to wash, style, and set my hairpieces. Charles had become ill and had to be hospitalized to receive a pacemaker, so we talked over cardiology topics.

I tried to wind up all my affairs in Jackson by late November. It would take several months to finalize all the legal documents, including the name change (and divorce) before I could resume work.

Sheryl and Mark were still very upset, and couldn't talk to me for long periods of time. I kept praying for understanding on their part, but the hurt was too deep for now. Finally November 30, my last day as a male, arrived. The next day would begin my real life test.



becky@drbecky.com