What I Thought About in the ICU

I've been looking at a machine like this all week.

I’ve been looking at heart rate machines all week.

Donna had her heart valve replaced on January 21, 2015. As expected (95%), she survived and the operation was successful. She spent four nights in the ICU. Now she is in the step down unit. The next phase is a residential rehab facility, and then home.

The medical staff monitor, poke, stick, and medicate Donna. She is tired and doesn’t believe that this is what a good outcome feels like. Everyone says that she looks great and is doing great. I believe them; she looks good to me.

What do you think about when your partner is in the ICU?

My thoughts were not as deep as I expected. When I look at Donna I feel how much I love her, but I didn’t think about how much I love her while I was there.

I realized I made a mistake waiting by myself while she was in surgery. I’m a quiet person, and I didn’t want to have to chat while I waited. I should have had someone with me just in case something terrible happened. I can’t imagine being alone and getting bad news and then going home by myself. I had offers of company that I rejected. I must learn to accept help.

Some people in the ICU have no family, no friends, no visitors. I am afraid I will end up like that. I know that I am a one man dog, a one femme butch, a one Donna Jamie. Continue reading

The Odds Are in Our Favor

Donna is getting a heart valve replacement today (January 21, NYC). It is a big deal for both of us. If you are wondering why this is the first you are hearing about it, don’t blame me. She scheduled it last week and it blindsided me.

For three years or so Donna has had “aortic regurgitation” and fatigue. She has seen several cardiologists, and tried as hard as possible to avoid taking drugs or getting surgery. The diagnosis was heart failure and a potential valve issue, but she set out to get second opinions. She finally started taking beta-blockers over the summer. Donna can gather information to the point of procrastination.

Two weeks ago I accompanied her to a consultation with a valve surgeon at Columbia-Presbyterian. He read her the riot act and I am grateful that he did. The surgeon told her heart was working too hard to compensate for the aortic valve leakage. He told her that the risk of waiting was not worth it, and that she had a high probability of a good outcome if he did the surgery now. Low risk, high benefit. He also explained that the risk gets higher the longer she waits, and the benefits decrease. He told her to take no more than a month to decide. Continue reading

Have You Always Had That Mustache?

Marcel Duchamp pins the mustache on the Mona Lisa (1919).

Marcel Duchamp pins the mustache on the Mona Lisa (1919).

Now that I’ve had top surgery, I’d like to stop thinking about what to do next and settle back into my butch/transgender self. Without feeling pressured to be on some trajectory with an endpoint. WIthout being swept away by someone else’s idea of the transgender narrative.

The pressure to keep going is subtle. The unspoken assumption is that next year I’ll be taking T and using the men’s room. That transition has a starting line and a finish line and once the starting gun goes off all the participants are full speed ahead on the shortest path. There is no place in that race for a meandering half-baked genderqueer person.

An acquaintance ran into me on the street and we chatted. Later, she asked Donna how long I’ve taken testosterone for (I don’t) and if I’ve always had a mustache. Yes. I’ve always had what I refer to as my “Fu” but no one said anything about it until I changed my name. My Fu is most prominent on my upper right lip. I neither want my Fu to spread and grow nor do I want it to disappear. I’m fond of it. I never shaved, plucked, or bleached it (chin hairs are another story).  Continue reading

It Isn’t All It Seems at Seventeen

My emotional life at 17

At 17 I was an active volcano.

Every mental health professional I’ve ever worked with has asked me if I’ve attempted suicide, if I’ve ever felt suicidal, or if I have any suicidal feelings. The simple answer is no. The complex answer is I’ve been homicidal, not suicidal. I was an angry kid and an angrier teenager.

In my mind I’ve killed off my mother, my grandmother, and Julie and Wendy, the two girls who relentlessly picked on me in elementary school. The only one I was serious about killing was my mother. I didn’t have a good plan. I thought about pushing her in front of a train. I wanted to make it look like an accident. I considered trying to make her overdose on barbiturates, but I never purchased pills or figured out how to mix them with alcohol. There was no internet to turn to. Continue reading

From Dysphoria to Euphoria

I'll never wear a binder again.

I’ll never wear a binder again.

It’s been three weeks since I had top-surgery. I look so natural to myself in the mirror that it is impossible to believe that I used to be a 38C. I’m not exactly flat chested; my breast bone is prominent, and even as the bruising goes down, I look like I’ve got pecs. Euphoria.

I also have scars, scabs, stitches, and a little flaking and chafing. It isn’t pretty. I’ve got three more weeks to go before I can walk around without compression. I’m sleeping by myself (i.e. with Gracie) because I have to sleep on my back and I snore like Daffy Duck in this clip. Every morning I climb into the other bed, lie on my back, and cuddle with Donna.

Donna still hasn’t seen me shirtless, but she has seen me in shirts. She isn’t ready to look at my scars. I don’t blame her.

Two years ago, Donna was shocked and upset that I started binding. In retrospect, it was the only trans action I took without prepping her beforehand or waiting for her to get used to the idea. To keep the peace, I agreed not to spring anything else on her and to include her in my decision-making. A year ago, Donna was talking about top surgery as self-mutilation and a form of misogyny. Yesterday, while were on the bus, she said that I look like myself only more so. She said my chest fits me. I had to ask her to repeat it. Continue reading

Drag and Double Drag

Frieda Belinfante -Dutch Resistance Fighter

Frieda Belinfante – Dutch resistance fighter

I never pretended I was a boy. I just was the way I was. This flustered adults who (mis)gendered me as a boy. As if I was trying to pull something over on them. As if I was being dishonest. As if it was a game that went to far. It embarrassed the adults; they didn’t like being fooled.

Being seen as a boy is different from pretending I was a boy. I continued seeing myself as a boy long after I should have gotten the picture that being a girl is permanent. I refused to inhabit the pink world, the Barbie and ballet class world. I refused to think of myself as a girl. Other people call this denial, but I see it as a form of self-determination.

I tried as much as possible to stay in the range of activities where I could see myself as a boy. This required a fair amount of magical thinking, e.g. “This isn’t a three-quarter length sleeve shirt – it’s a football jersey and I’m a quarterback.” I dissociated from my body. By staying inside myself I avoided having to face the world as a girl. I would rather do nothing than do something girlish. I played by myself a lot.

The stereotype of butch lesbians is that we are pretending to look like or act like men. Some butches (and some trans guys and some cis guys) may lay it on a little heavy for some people’s taste; we may project a type of masculinity that some find offensive or unattractive. After a life time of being told to tone it down and not be so blatant, it is not easy to trust my instincts or to get it right.  Continue reading

Measure Twice, Cut Once


Taxis are required by law to take you anywhere in the five boroughs; but they do not like to go out of Manhattan unless you are going to the airport.

Monday, the day I had top surgery, did not start off auspiciously. The car service called a half hour before the scheduled pick-up time to tell me they were running late. The car would arrive at my apartment after I was due at the hospital. We canceled the car and went down to Hudson St. and hailed a yellow taxi. The driver refused to take us to The Bronx. He claimed he didn’t know how to get there and his GPS was broken. We hailed another taxi. The driver punched the address into his phone and started driving. We arrived on time. I gave him a good tip.

Montefiore Hospital’s day surgery unit is in a huge building with many corridors. We got lost. We wanted the silver zone and kept ending up in the purple zone. A security guard led us to the day surgery registration area. I signed in and got changed into my gown and waited for Dr. Weiss to come by for the final mark up.

Measure twice

Yes, it was this kind of measuring tape; in centimeters.

He arrived and apologized. He forgot to bring his measuring tape. He ran off to get another. I imagined him at the Dress Barn begging for a spare tape “Hurry up, I’ve got a patient on the table.” I have no idea where he found it, but, after what seemed like a long time, he reappeared with a new one. He looked at his notes, measured and marked and measured and marked. He stepped back, admired his work, and then we walked into the operating room.

Continue reading