Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Do you store memories in your olfactory tube?


Recently, I was making bechamel sauce a.k.a. white sauce, without fail as with every time I make it, along came that memory, playing like a video in my head. I was about 12 years old, it was Easter Sunday and my mother was ill in bed. When I was growing up Easter was a big event. We all got new clothes and Easter Eggs, Lent was over and all that deprivation and penance was done. Families gathered over a huge feast, almost as big as Christmas dinner.

We usually had a large leg of lamb, roasted with potatoes and served with cauliflower covered in previously mentioned bechamel sauce. But as my mother was ill and my older sister was not home, I took it upon myself to cook dinner. The most I had ever done in the way of cooking up to then was help prepare vegetables. With some instructions from the sick bed, I had everything prepared in good time, the very last task was the bechamel sauce. I knew how to make it, but I had never done it before.

There was no such thing as instant packaged sauces, my mother made this sauce from scratch. I melted the butter, mixed in the flour and started adding the milk. within seconds I had a gross lumpy mess. I was horrified! I trudged up the three flights of stairs from the basement kitchen to my mother's bedroom with the saucepan. She took one look at what I offered her and said I would have to start again. She explained in detail how to take the pan off the heat and slowly add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly. I started again, carefully following her directions.

The second attempt worked - it was perfect, just like mother made! That memory is as vivid now as the event was then. I remember ever step of those stairs, I remember the panic I felt, and my mother's poor feverish face as she patiently explained how to do it right. The memory carries the scent of boiled cauliflower and roasting meat and potatoes. I remember serving my mother a tray in her room, and I know everyone gathered and ate the first dinner I had ever cooked and served, but the memory was the white sauce.

Some time ago I asked my mother in law about her childhood. I was fascinated by the fact that her father was a sharecropper in Kentucky. I asked her to describe her life and the house they lived in when she was growing up. She said it was just a house. I thought I could pull the vision of it out of her memory by asking questions. I asked her if she remembered when they first moved into the house, and she did, she told me about the room in a separate wing that was her bedroom and that she was always frightened there because it was separated from the rest of the family. I asked her what did the house smell like the first time she went into it. She didn't remember any smell. I imagined dusty, old wood smell, perhaps some wood rot, and tobacco maybe (it was on a tobacco farm) but no, she had nothing.

That lack of recall started me thinking about memory and what different people remember, and what triggers the recall. And does everyone remember in pictures and scents, or I am just weird? or is my mother in law unusual because she doesn't?

I know that certain smells trigger memories, but often I find it is the opposite, When I think of my father, I get the smell of stale Brylcreem, whiskey, and snuff. For my grandmother, it is Pond's Cold Cream and Coty's face power, memories of my mother bring back the scent of 4711 Eau de Cologne.

Then there are sounds that bring back memories, or maybe not so much the memory as the emotions surrounding that memory. For instance, whistling. When I hear someone whistling I get a powerful feeling of suppressed anger. I am usually a very even tempered person, but at the sound of whistling I want to punch the whistler in the face, or anywhere that will result in them ceasing to whistle.

I hate whistling so much I have blogged about it before, it is as though I was hypnotized to react with violence at the sound. And I guess in a way I was, probably more correct to say I was conditioned. My father used to whistle all the time, and he also used to regularly lay into us for no other reason than he was angry about something, or drunk. I don't mean that he gave us a sharp tap across the legs. No, he lifted us off our feet and punched, or backhanded us to the floor and kicked. Hence, when I hear whistling, I feel the need to protect myself, or maybe take revenge.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

My get up and go..

Yep, it got up and went. So would I, if I didn't have some good reasons to stay.

My plan was to come to the land of the free, where all men (and women) are (were) equal, where religion played no part in politics and immigrants were welcomed with open arms, especially those escaping wars and famine, which to be fair, I was not.

And I did, when I truly believed my life was over, I made a new life for myself. For 22 years I never once regretted my decision. If you read my book, you will know that it was not all a bed of roses, but on balance, it has been an amazing and rewarding experience. Even the bad experiences were good lessons learned.

Last November that changed. That was when my get up got up and took off. I stayed only because my husband is here and he would not consider leaving; plus we had made a commitment to take care of his aging mother, I was not about to go back on my word.

But the bottom fell out of my world. Work became a chore; even my hobbies were not a distraction; I stopped writing; I stopped working on designing new embroidery patterns, my embroidery machine sat untouched for six months. In fact, when I finally checked on it, it too had lost it's get up and go, it sat abandoned for another month waiting for me to drum up enough interest to take it to be serviced. Finally, I asked my husband to see what could be done to fix it. Apparently, the answer is nothing - at least nothing worth doing. It would cost as much as the machine was worth to fix it.

Apparently, this rot is spreading. Can nothing be fixed anymore? If only everything that is broken could be as easily replaced as an embroidery machine.

I continue working because we have to live, and now my hope of ever retiring is fading as I see this country being slowly destroyed. The rich will get richer, the poor and elderly will not be able to survive. Women are going to lose control of their own health decisions, unwanted children will be born, but the social welfare, health and educational support for them will have been removed. Bullying appears to no longer be a bad thing and instances of racism, sexism, and anti-gay abuse is being reported more and more frequently. Apparently, if our president displays these traits, it must be OK?

Everything I read online and hear on the news fills me with pessimism, and I am an optimistic person by nature. The treatment of immigrants, non-Christians, LBGT, the poor, women, children - in fact, anyone who is not a rich, male, white, so-called Christian, is getting more and more abusive and exclusionary treatment. And now America, the champion of the Paris Agreement, is once again just a greedy self serving force determined to destroy the world, as long as those rich white men become richer, to hell with everyone else. If hell really existed, it would be populated by rich, white, male Christians.

Listen up America - The only true Americans are the Native American tribes. If you are a white, Christian male, you are an immigrant, or you are here because immigration is part and parcel of the foundation of America and your ancestors were welcomed here - sadly much of that foundation was built on the mass slaughtering of the real Americans.

And the appalling treatment of African Americans started with slavery, dragging them to America against their will, and despite the Civil Rights Movement, and so-called equality, they are still being discriminated against, and that discrimination and associated abuse are being fostered by the current administration.

To a certain extent, I believe that we create our own reality however, I am not stupid enough to believe that we can control everything; so, after six months of mourning. I have decided to get up and get past this. I know that it is possible I may never again see the United States of America in the same light. I may never live to see this awful, cruel sea of hatred subside. But it is the reality that surrounds me. My responsibility is to carry on. To try, in whatever way possible I can, to be an opposing influence. Sitting around feeling sorry for myself and the entire country - in fact, most of this world, is not the answer.

My answer is to replace my embroidery machine with an even better one; get an even more powerful software package to create even better patterns, embrace the fact that I have a job and that I work with some truly amazing people; start writing again and be a positive force against the hatred I see all around me. I may never be able to have an influence on the overpowering bigotry and hatred, but I do have power over my own reaction to it.

We are doing our part, we will support the Paris Agreement- we are having solar panels installed to reduce our small carbon footprint. It is a small start, I can't leave and I can't sit around feeling sorry for myself and everyone needs to stand up and push back if we are going to fix this awful mess.




Monday, January 23, 2017

Chapter 24 of Peeling The Onion - time to say this again

Gender dysphoria, trans gendered, transsexual, transvestite, cross dresser.  These are just some of the terms used to refer to an extremely diverse variety of conditions and dispositions.  It is probably true to say that every person who belongs to one of these groups, also belongs to some, or all, of the others.  Many people are not really aware of the differences between these groups.

The following definitions were taken from The Merriman Webster’s Dictionary online.

Main Entry: trans·sex·u·al
: a person with a psychological urge to belong to the opposite sex that may be carried to the point of undergoing surgery to modify the sex organs to mimic the opposite sex

Main Entry: trans·ves·tite
: a person and especially a male who adopts the dress and often the behavior typical of the opposite sex especially for purposes of emotional or sexual gratification

Main Entry: cross-dress·ing
: the wearing of clothes designed for the opposite sex

Main Entry: trans·gen·der
: exhibiting the appearance and behavioral characteristics of the opposite sex

Main Entry: dys·pho·ria
: a state of feeling unwell or unhappy

My experience has been with transsexuals.  When I discovered that the man I was living with had every intention of doing all in his power to become the woman he believed himself to be, I gained considerable insight into this very unhappy condition.  Most transsexuals are bisexual, and John fully expected me to accept his transformation to Jane without consideration for the fact that I was, and am, heterosexual.  I was prepared to give emotional support, and a certain amount of financial support, but as far as I was concerned, our relationship was over.

It is probably superfluous to mention that it came as quite a shock to discover that my tough, motorcycle racing, boyfriend was not exactly what I believed.  John was not very articulate, and he didn't come right out and say he was transsexual, it was a while before I really understood the implications of what he was trying to say.

At first I thought he was telling me he was bi-sexual, then I started to suspect that he was trying to tell me that he was a cross-dresser.  In my extreme innocence - or should I say ignorance? I thought "that will go away with the love of a good woman“.  It didn’t.   No matter how hard I tried to believe that I could convince him that a man was all I wanted him to be, he was not happy.  I had to accept that I could never supply what it was he believed he wanted most.

It was not just luck that had John and I were living in San Francisco at the time. We were both living in Austin when we met, he deliberately made the choice to move there because he knew that it was one of the better areas to find the support and medical assistance he required.

Over a period of about 6 months, we found, through newsgroups on the Internet, support groups for transsexuals.  We got names of psychologists, endocrinologists, and surgeons specializing in gender dysphoria.  We also gathered information on hair removal and cover up make up - this was the make up used to cover scars and birthmarks but also worked relatively well disguising facial hair growth. We balanced the cost and effectiveness of electrolysis versus laser hair removal and started the long process to get John to Jane.

Transsexuals believe themselves to be trapped inside the body of the opposite gender.  Try for one moment to picture how that must feel?  As a woman, I tried to imagine what it would be like to stumble into the bathroom when the alarm invades my sleep, to be greeted by my reflection in the mirror - 24 hours of stubble on my chin, heavy eyebrows, hairy chest - and all the other male parts. What a way for a woman to start the day!  Small wonder there is a very high incidence of suicide among the transsexual population.

The transformation process is controlled by law.  The first step is to find a sympathetic psychotherapist.  The law requires that the transsexual under go therapy for a specified period of time, in John’s case, 3 months.  At the end of this time, the therapist will, if all goes according to plan, issue a letter, which states that the patient is a suitable case for Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS).  With this letter, John was able to obtain hormones on prescription, from the endocrinologist (who happened to be a transsexual herself).  Hormone treatment is the first big step.  Large doses of female hormones, together with testosterone blocker, will have immediate effect.  Breasts start to grow, the growth of body hair is inhibited, skin softens and aggressive tendencies more usual in the male are replaced by the irrational tendencies more usual in females.

Another reason that the psychologist’s letter was so very important is that it enabled John to get a certificate from the endocrinologist, stating that John was undergoing treatment to prepare for SRS.  This document allowed him to change his driver's license - (s)he became Jane, and the M on her license was changed to F.

One of the major controls put on transsexuals (they refer to themselves as TS’s) is that they must live for one full year as the gender they are planning to switch to.  In John’s case, he must live as Jane - in every possible sense.  Dress as a woman, take hormones regularly, present herself to the outside world as Jane, at work and at play.  This is very much more difficult that anyone can imagine.  John was almost 6 foot tall, weighed at least 200 pounds and had black hair.  It is not easy to hide a 5 o’clock shadow when the hair coming through is thick and black.  Electrolysis is painful, and the amount of hair that we are talking about is horrific.  It will grow back.  It takes approximately 4 years of monthly 4 hour sessions of electrolysis to effectively remove facial hair.  One of the really difficult side effects is swelling and discoloration, albeit temporary.  John was so desperate to make the transition, he once underwent 7 solid hours of electrolysis.  This cost approximately $350.  His face was so swollen and painful, he was unable to go to work for 2 days - he said that he had severe reaction to some dental surgery, this allowed him to appear on the third day with a still swollen face.

Other precarious issues include public toilets.  As a transsexual man, living as a woman, visits to the public toilet can be a humiliating, and often very dangerous experience.  They are frequently identified by the other women using these facilities, fear and ignorance drives these women to assume something perverted and call for help.  Many transsexual men I have known have been badly beaten - because they were using a public ladies toilet and, in the jargon of the TS - they didn’t ‘pass’.

The TS support group that we found was a great source of interesting information and most fascinating people.  The people I will introduce you to later in this article.  The information included one very useful, if bizarre, piece of information.  The Veterans Association (VA) is an association that handles the care of all those who served in the American military.  John had gone directly from school, into the Army, where he served for 2 years.  I later discovered that a large number of male to female transsexuals joined the military.  I suspect this was a way to attempt to disguise their gender dysphoria, immersing themselves in the life of the typical male.  As a result of having served in the military, John was entitled to claim any and all of the perks that the VA had available.  Cheap mortgages and free medical care being the main ones.

What he didn’t know, but discovered at the support group meetings, is that the VA had a clinic in San Francisco, dedicated entirely to the care of ex-military transsexuals.  This clinic supplied free hormones, psychological and medical attention, even plastic surgery.  The only thing it did not supply was the final SRS surgery.  John signed up at the VA clinic and started to get his medication and therapy there.  He also got a nose job, and a chin job, to refine his features.

At this point I was no longer living with John, who had metamorphosed into Jane.  The violence continued and I am not sure how much longer I would have tolerated it, but that, coupled with the prospect of being forced to live with a violent woman pushed me to get some common sense and find the strength to get out.  I was lucky enough to have two very good friends, a gay couple, who took me in and cared for me while I recovered from a particularly ugly incident, which included a loaded, pump action, shot gun.  After 6 weeks with them, I started to put my life back together, convinced that I would never again allow myself to be treated that way.  And I really do believe that, should another man lift a hand to me, I will be gone.

John and I kept in touch, once I left, she no longer attempted to use violence to try to control me, but it was clear that she thought she could get me back by behaving in a more civil manner and (s)he frequently called on me for help in explained how a woman might feel about various things she was experiencing.

Her next stage was going to be the final SRS operation.  She had to decide where this would be done. There are a number of very good surgeons in the US who specialize in SRS, but the cost was prohibitive.  $10,000 was not unusual.  The alternative was to travel out to Thailand - where there was a surgeon who had made this his specialty.  The cost of the travel and the surgery was still very much less than the closest price available in the US and the waiting lists were not as long.  In the US Jane could expect to wait up to 8 months for an appointment, let alone the surgery.  Despite the idea of such major, painful, surgery so far from home and support of family and friends, Jane opted for Thailand.  When her year of living as a woman was up, she headed to The International Hospital in Phuket Island, Thailand and there she finally became Jane.

The preparations for this trip were understandably complicated.  While she had a driver’s license that stated she was ‘F’, her passport was still in her male name, and declared her to be male.  This had to be changed before she could travel and the process was torturous.  She had to present herself at the passport office, with all the documentation from therapists and endocrinologists, stating that she was a male to female SRS candidate.  This meant that she had to stand in a room full of people, as we all know passport offices are never empty, and explain to the confused, and sometimes deeply prejudiced, person behind the desk, why she needed to change the gender on her passport.  Mortification and humiliation are an understatement of the way she felt.

No one can convince me that a transsexual is looking for attention, or has any trivial reason for going through what they have to go through to achieve their dream.  The sad thing is that dreams, once achieved, are so very often not all they are cracked up to be.  Many TS’s find that life does not suddenly become transformed because they do.  Life frequently becomes much more difficult.   They must continue to take female hormones for the rest of their lives.  Electrolysis continues for years, and the growth is still difficult to hide towards the end of the day.  Finding work, and supplying references for past employment is a major hurdle.

Many TS’s are ostracized by family and friends and prejudice is a constant problem.  Many are attacked and beaten and/or raped.   However, at the support group, I did meet many who were fully supported by family.

The first, and only, support meeting I attended was a fascinating and educational experience.  It was a Saturday afternoon, we arrived - John still in male character, as the pot luck lunch was being served.  We were welcomed with the utmost hospitality and warm welcome.  I looked around in amazement at the people, wondering who was transsexual and who was support.  The group was for TS’s and their support people.

Once the food was served we all sat at trestle tables and the active conversation around me indicated a group of people who knew each other well.  Everyone was very careful to draw John and myself into the group, they probably also wondered which of us was the TS … or were we both?  I sat opposite a woman close to my own age, with curly red hair and a beautifully complementing green print dress.  After introductions we discovered that we both worked in the same area of the software industry - quality assurance.  On my left was another woman, also close to my own age, big boned and somewhat butch in appearance  - and on her other side a young teenage girl, clearly her daughter, who reminded me so much of my own daughter at that age, about 16.  I was curious to know who they were supporting.

Across the room there was a strikingly beautiful black woman, beautiful as only black women can be, with those exotic features and coffee colored skin.  She was accompanied by a slight, but muscular black man - dark velvet black.  Beside them was the minister, in who’s church hall this group met - he was about 70 years old and a kindly, gentle old man with grey hair and a whispy beard.  Next to him was a couple who were hard to identify - in any other setting I would have said a very butch woman and her brother.  If it were not for the beard on the ‘brother’ I would have guessed two butch lesbians.  Next to them was a slim, sultry blond, Jayne Mansfield lookalike - for those of you who are of my generation.  She was alone.

At this point, I only identified one TS for sure (apart from John).  The lady who greeted us on our arrival, I was sure was male to female.  Her support person was a little soft and sweet elderly lady, everyone’s grandmother.  I spoke to her later and she told me that she had always wanted a daughter to share ‘female’ things with.  When her son, a very successful lawyer, decided to follow his heart and become her daughter, she never waivered in her support.  I admired that woman tremendously, though I couldn't help wondering if there was a clue somewhere in that story to the eventual outcome - be careful what you wish for?

After the meal, it was time for the support people to move into another room.  The normal process was that the TS’s stayed and discussed their issues, while the support people did the same in the next room.  Each group having to deal with such different and varied problems.

As I got up from the table to depart with the other support people, it was so astonishing to see who stayed and who left.  Little Brianna, the 16 year old, long blond hair-swinging teenager, remained seated while her 5 foot 10 inch heavy built mother stood up.  My red haired software friend remained seated.  Of the black couple, the obvious, velvet-black, male stood up - and the Whitney Houston beauty remained seated.  The blond bombshell I was so envious of, she remained seated.  The butch couple, the bearded ‘brother’ remained and the butch sister left - I later learned that she was a lesbian and he was a female to male TS, and they were planning to marry.  The minister remained.  He was also female to male.  All of the others were male to female.

In the support room I got a more detailed background on the group.  Brianna had worried her mother, a single parent, since she was a small boy.  She would hide in the closet and hated to go to school.  Becky, the mother, had two boys, Brianna and her older brother.  She became aware that there was something seriously wrong and, with the help of a very perceptive psychologist, realized that Brianna was not happy as a boy.  The amazing thing is that Brianna’s older brother as equally supportive.  Later I had to listen to Jane complain at length about how she never got such an opportunity before it was too late and testosterone had done the damage.

We never returned to the support group.  I am still not sure why, but I know that whenever the subject came up, Jane got very agitated.  We did meet many of the people from there under other circumstances.  And through them, many other TS’s.

There was Bronwyn, the six foot 250 pound, silk clad, loud mouthed lady, who frequently forgot she was a lady and coughed with determination, spitting on the sidewalk.  Her story was particularly sad.  She told me that she had married as a young man, to Helen, a lesbian childhood friend.  Both were in the military.  They had a complete life plan drawn up.  They would have children, then Helen would support the family while he went through his transition.  Then they would live as a lesbian couple, together with the two daughters they did have.  The tragedy was that Helen was on a military mission when the troop transporter she was on, crashed into the side of a mountain with no survivors.  Bronwyn had to make the choice - she gave up all plans to follow her dream to become a woman, remained in the military and brought up her daughters alone.  Once the girls were old enough, she retired from the military and pursued her plans to become a woman.  Incidently, her daughters supported her totally - one of them heterosexual and married and one a lesbian.

Then there was Margaret - who was later to become Jane’s domestic partner.  When I first met Margaret I didn’t realize she was a TS.  She was very tall, but slim and willowy.  She was not very bright, but very sweet.  Jane was totally enamored with her.   Her story was also very sad, but in a different way to Bronwyn’s.  She had been sexually abused by her step father, as a young boy.   Her first major relationship was with another male to female TS, who was extremely physically violent and used to knock her about regularly.  He finally committed suicide.  After that, she got involved with a family - a couple with an 8 year old son.  They moved into her home, restricting her to one room, she worked long, hard hours, to support them.  She finally managed to remove them from her home when she met Jane.  Then Jane moved in and life continued pretty much as before for poor Margaret.

I will never be able to decide if transsexuals are born, or created by abuse, neglect and their environment.  But one thing I do know is that the path they choose is neither easy nor rewarding.  Apart from the long process of electrolysis, the SRS which has got to be a hideous and painful process, most TS’s will also subject themselves to trachea shaving - the adam’s apple is one of the main reasons that a TS is identified.  They will also spend time, effort and yet more money on voice therapy, which will go a long way to produce the feminine tones that will help them to ‘pass’, but no amount of voice therapy will alter a cough, or a spontaneous laugh.  There is as high an incidence of suicide among transsexuals after SRS as there is before.

I have met a few TS’s who have managed to create the life of their dreams, or at least come close enough to the dream to make the process worthwhile.  These have all been misfits as males.  Short and slight, it was not a big effort for them to pass as females, even at the early stages.  Laura worked in the University in San Francisco as an Information Technologist.  She was one of those energetic, contained women that we all admire and envy.  Long, dark brown hair, fine featured, with a figure she did not have to make an effort to maintain.  She ‘transitioned on the job’ - something that all TS’s want to be able to do.  Sadly, this is very rare.  Few employers are understanding enough to tolerate it.

When I first met Laura she had just transitioned and had 8 months to go before she could have SRS.   A year later I heard that she had sailed through her surgery and was engaged to be married.  She was one of the very few who had managed to find a relationship with a man who accepted her transformation.

If I had one wish for those human beings so afflicted, it would be tolerance from their fellow human beings.