A View from a Finish Line

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By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

I don’t know precisely how often I become self-conscious, but now, when I do, I realize my body is the way I always wished it had been.

I’ll think about myself, and remember that in the past, before my recent gender confirming surgery, thinking of myself always meant frustration, and embarrassment. The absence of those feelings, and the presence of joy, and pride, is still surprising.

I don’t know why a surgery was necessary for that switch. If I could have avoided the last three years of transitioning, and the confusion, strife, insecurity and tension they entailed, I’m sure I would have. Now those months are slipping away. It feels as though I’m in the “results” phase of my life regarding gender, as opposed to the “efforts” one.

My internal picture is slowly changing, catching up to new physical realities. Moments of bitterness occur, when I compare the fraction of my life I’ve now spent feeling at home in my body to near complete history I’ve lived feeling the opposite. More often, though, I’ll think about the giant vista I imagine before me in my future. The urgent goals, surrounded by treacherous dangers that made up the last three years are past. My internal motor is dialing down to accommodate my new outlook.

Each day my body heals a little and I think about gender in a different, less political way. The passions I felt around the topic dimming, and my new equanimity causing pangs of guilt.

Being over forty, barely, and both eccentric and contemplative, I’ve watched myself change in many ways during my life. Phrases like, “This will always be important to me,” no longer feel reliable when I hear them in my head, because so many things that did, sincerely, seem important to me at one time ceased to at some point.

Changes I’ve experienced during my transition, a time for me of hyper-vigilance and extreme introspection, all seemed momentously important, as though the definition of who I was varied constantly and needed minding lest it get away from me and into dangerous hands.

The prospect that stasis, rather than flux, might be the foundation of my life sounds radical, as flux in my identity, like dysphoria with regards to my body, has been far more prevalent for me historically.

Transitioning, as a project, enlisted my mind to track and catalogue changes. Those changes now presumably complete, my mind slows, in disbelief that its overwhelming task might be ceasing. Perfectionistic habits, which felt unbreakable when practiced until very recently, as they suggested stability in the midst of whirring doubts, appear more and more like superstitious coping devices, whose use may no longer be required.

Slowly, my body begins to feel incontestably mine. Memories of childhood violations, and of harassments committed during my transition, grow fuzzier, quieter, and easier with which to avoid engaging.

The constant drive to do or be something different, linked likely to a desire to escape all those pains, is fading, as well. As of now, at least, my hunger for some elusive justice to right all the wrongs done to me is abating, replaced by an exhausted contentment.

A marathon perhaps only I knew I was running, which began on the day my transition did, has, I believe, been completed, although being abstract, I can’t say it’s ended with certainty, and so I continue to search inside for the incentives I’ve used to keep running: Fear, anger, terror, and despair, and see only their shadows.

The habit of hiding a basic piece of myself, and the fear of others discovering it, conditioned by a lifetime of enforced closeting, and persistent even during my transition, when what I’d been hiding was progressively more on display, is buckling to the reality of its obsolescence.

After my surgery, when there was nothing for me to do but sleep, eat, rest and heal, I watched these thoughts roll by, like clouds on summer day. Being back in the world, though, they can feel upsetting, as, despite the seeming dawn of stasis within me, the question of who I am, in all its meanings, feels frustratingly unsettled.

Maybe that’s always the case, though. What would be the requirement or even the advantage of a fixed identity? Dysphoria was a problem with a prescribable answer. In that way it’s unlike life, in which situations present endless options.

Transition, in fresh hindsight, resembles college. One starts, does a bunch of stuff, and before they know it, they’ve finished. Along the way, one likely discards much of what they’ve learned previously as hopelessly ignorant, and unenlightened, having had their minds expanded by each step of the emotionally taxing process.

As a graduate, returned to civilian life, one harbors the secret pride of belonging to an exclusive group, and the belief in one’s self that comes from achieving something one didn’t know they were capable of.

Leela Ginelle is a playwright and journalist living in Portland, OR.
You can write her at leela@pqmonthly.com.