Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seeing Signs

Coincidence? Or Fate? Or God's Hand?

I was never one to believe in Fate - though I often was amused by how things seemingly "happened". And as disconnected I was from the notion of Fate, I was even more distanced from the concept of God's Plan. So it was that when "signs" started popping up as I hit absolute rock bottom in my life, that I viewed them with what little "humor" I could muster.

One of the less appealing facts of life for a male-to-female transgender is getting rid of the facial hair. I always hated shaving, and in fact had difficulty shaving on a regular basis. Whiskers on my neck would often grow back in-grown. Then when I would shave over those affected areas, I'd slice open the whiteheads and bleed all over the place. I'd joke that I needed to call the Red Cross before I would shave! Good thing I've donated ten gallons!! As a result, I would shave when absolutely necessary - weddings, funerals, hockey games and job interviews. Most of the time I sported an embarrassingly scraggly beard. I never "grew" a beard. I just didn't shave!! The most reliable, permanent method of beard elimination is electrolysis, a less than enjoyable experience where a tiny needle is inserted into the follicle and then an electric current is applied to effect a galvanic reaction, or cauterize with heat, or both.

As I mentioned, I had stopped visiting my electrologist because of finances...and then later because of my transitional inertia. I'll also say that she is a terrific friend, very knowledgeable in transgender issues and served as a surrogate "therapist" on many occasions. At the time, I was the Operations Director at the radio station and part of my job was to schedule the underwriters (public radio's version of "commercials") on the air. This had been part of my responsibilities for a decade or so.

At this point, I was attending therapy sessions and classes for six hours a day and still trying to get my work done at the radio station. While I was receiving help, I really wasn't getting any better emotionally. Then came one of those Signs. A new underwriter had been signed - the Oregon Association of Licensed Electrologists! We had never had them as a client before - or, to my knowledge, since. And I did miss my friend Patty. I got a chuckle and went about my business.

Another task of mine at the station was to pre-record and then program for later use about four hours of programming that would be aired on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Actually, I did this for the other six days of the week as well. On Sunday evening, we aired a program called "Choral Classics", a program that features choral music. One of the underwriters - or sponsors - of the program was Dr. James Thomas, a laryngologist. I read his copy before and after each weekly program and had for nearly two years.

In addition to electrolysis, some transgender women undergo surgical procedures on their vocal chords to effect a more female sounding voice....hormones are of no help for the male-to-female transgender for this situation. The success of the various procedures is mixed - and as someone who relied on my voice in part for my occupation, I was a little wary of doing this. And yet, I got to diddling around on the internet at work and decided to follow a link from a popular transgender health website that was simply entitled Voice Feminization Surgery...and whose name pops up? Dr. James Thomas...."The Voice Doctor", as he called himself. I learned that he is one of the leading experts in a technique called Crico-Thyroid Approximation. Another chuckle, another sign. (I'll add that when I did transition and my story became public, I received a very nice card from his office!).

In our therapy program, the first session was a daily check-in - how did you sleep, are you eating well, how do you feel today on a scale of 1-10, etc. There were two groups that participated in the check-in, I was in one group and Richard was in the other - which I surmised was a group with additional problems. Richard was an older man, rather tall, even a bit intimidating. We never spoke to one another. He would sit on one side of the room, I sat on the other and then once check-in was completed, we'd go our separate ways until lunch. I recall that during a lot of the check-in sessions, Richard kept thanking "My Lord and Personal Savior, Jesus Christ". Often. Almost as if that was the period to each sentence. Since I didn't have to interact with him during the rest of the day, I basically ignored him.

One morning, I arrived a bit early, so I headed down the hall, past the classrooms to the small lounge area that doubled as the waiting room for the therapists. As I headed east, Richard was headed west in the same hallway. "Do it", he said. "What?", was my surprised response. "You need to Do It...make your change.", referring to my well-known situation of being "stuck" between Ron and Donna. "Thank you, Richard.", was my half-hearted reply. Of course he was right....and I knew it....but I still wasn't ready to face that future. We never spoke again.

When faced with such difficult issues in our lives, we often get into the battle of the Head versus the Heart. The more practical among us listen to the Head. The more emotional listen to the Heart. My problem was I wasn't listening at all. And what better metaphor for not listening than a hearing aid?

My father needed a hearing aid, something he kept fidgeting with as well. At some point he would manage to break the small tube connecting the earpiece to the small amplifier. And since his hearing aid store was on my way to work from his house, I usually got the call to take them in for repair.

I had probably my worst day in therapy on the day of Christmas Eve morning - December 24th. I had been trying desperately to avoid doing any additional harm to myself until after the holidays. I didn't want my daughters or my wife to have to associate that time of year with my departure. But Christmas Day morning was as low as the night before Thanksgiving a month earlier. "Not today....Not today", was my mantra.

My family usually gathered on Christmas Eve and this year we were at my parent's house. No one, save my wife, knew the depths of my situation - though my oldest daughter was aware I was in some type of therapy. We had dinner, Santa paid us a visit, we exchanged presents...just like any other year. And Dad asked if I would take his hearing aid to the shop to get fixed.

Oh this is too easy, isn't it? I returned the hearing aid after it had been repaired a couple of days later. But that wasn't enough. Dad called a few days after that..."Can you take my OTHER hearing aid in now?". Yep...I still wasn't listening, I needed to do this again. And I did.

It was now January 13th, a Tuesday. I had met with Lynne, my lead therapist, that morning who had indicated we would start working on an exit strategy for me from the recovery program. I remember thinking privately "but I'm not ready....I just know I can't keep myself safe". In my determination to avoid the holidays, I'd set January 15th as the day I would no longer fight if I fell apart again. And I knew I would.

I picked up the second hearing aid after stopping in at work for awhile after therapy and headed for my parents house. This time the discussion turned to one of the seemingly too frequent family squabbles. My mother was enlisting me to take sides - something I usually avoided anyway, but truly had no capacity to deal with. I kept deferring, she kept insisting. Then came those fateful words, "I can't imagine a son of mine not backing me up!". Crushed, I cried. She had no idea why I wanted out of this discussion. I got up to leave, still not planning on telling them my truth. My dad begged me to stay, to talk. I resisted, escaping the situation - just like suicide - seemed my best course of action.

To this day, I don't remember what Mom said next, I just recall that Donna - not Ron - finally stood up and blurted: "I'm crying because I've been in a suicide recovery program for the past month and you didn't even know!". Well, that kinda blew the situation wide open. I called my wife to tell her that I was going to have "the talk" with my parents right then and there. And so they found out - I had finally "listened". It was Donna wanting to live.

That weekend I shared with my wife a story I had not told anyone else. When my paternal grandmother passed away - her name was Gretchen, but we called her Nanny - I kept sensing her continued presence. We'd spent many hours together and she was a fascinating woman - that's an essay all its own! I used to "see" her in that little hazy spot between sleep and wake. Nothing was ever said, just the calm of her presence made me feel she was continuing to watch over me. Those "visits" ended after awhile.

In all honesty, I had sensed that a lot of these signs were at her guidance. And I mentioned that to my wife. I then left for the pharmacy to get a refill for, of all things, my estrogen. It was a lovely, blue sky Sunday morning. And as I pulled out of the parking lot to return home, there was a lone, almost lonely, cloud. From that tiny cloud that had no reason to exist that morning spilled the arc of a rainbow. It connected Earth and Sky. It wasn't a complete arch. As I looked a bit more intently, I realized the rainbow's end had to be falling right on my house. I cried. It's Nanny telling me Congratulations, You Finally Listened. And I said Thank You.

It would be another two years before I would learn that the rainbow is the symbol of God's covenant with me (Genesis 9:13). That day I cried again. I know Nanny was the Angel. I know God sent her.

Oh...almost forgot....Richard. I later learned that he would sometimes get delusional and lose touch with reality. There were many at the therapy center battling incredible challenges. When he was delusional, Richard thought he was Jesus Christ.

On August 21, 2005 I went into a church for the first time for my own spiritual needs and heard the sermon, "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You". Then it all made sense.

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