Canada
7 min

Snapping out of it

An entirely unmedical prescription

MARKED AS DIFFERENT. Being trans is something that others — from healthcare providers to friends and family — may be all too conscious of and yet simultaneously reluctant to discuss. Credit: Anthony Brennan

It’s my day off work but I’m restless, remembering yesterday.

The day began in the basement of a friend’s house where my wife and I slept the night before. It was a celebration with friends and family but I spent the evening feeling different, other, alone. The trans guy. The weird one, however cherished. The half and half, the incomplete, the one everyone wonders about or watches for signs of repressed femininity or depression.

That’s me. Or at least, that’s the me I see others seeing at times.

After a hurried breakfast with our friends in a houseful of kids and dogs and constant distraction my wife and I sped away, late as usual. In my distraction it came as a surprise when my wife expressed feeling disconnected from me. She felt hurt by my emotional distance. I was feeling hurt too, so much so that I hadn’t even noticed it carry over into her; so much so that I couldn’t find the energy to console her or make amends. Our brief talk ended in stalemate.

After dropping her off at work I drove to the hospital to see my endocrinologist. It was my first visit with him since my initial appointment 14 months ago to begin hormone replacement therapy. It was a source of some concern that my six-month follow-up appointment had been rescheduled by the hospital six times over the past year, despite their knowledge that I’d gradually doubled my testosterone dose, dropped it down a bit when I found my jaw clenching and rattling and had undergone a complete hysterectomy — major medical factors that a responsible endocrinologist would feel compelled to monitor closely.

But I couldn’t get an appointment before yesterday, eight months past the recommended six-month mark. Canadian healthcare at work.

***

I felt anxious as I approached the hospital, recalling what happened last month at a neighbouring facility where I’d visited an allergist after three years on a waiting list.

At the time I had just recently succeeded in changing my birth certificate to reflect my legal name and sex. I enjoyed a proud moment of normalcy as I handed the receptionist a health card displaying my chosen name, a picture that looks like me and a sex that matches the rest.

You can imagine my surprise when, with a mumbled “wait a moment,” she revealed to me and everyone within earshot that the computer records appeared to be wrong. “You won’t believe this,” she cackled. “They have you in here as… oh, it just doesn’t make sense! They have you in here as, well, as Calvin Caitlin Joanna!”

My old names, first and middle. Apparently they landed in the computer system during my first visit to the endocrinologist with whom they share a database. The hospital staff legally had to use my name as it appeared on my health card at the time rather than the name I called myself but some yahoo had decided to record both my (chosen) male and (legal) female names and not thought about how it would look on the correspondence that passed through the hands of my small town’s little old mail lady.

But what was done was done and I was glad for the opportunity to amend a longstanding annoyance. “Can you correct it?” I asked, graciously ignoring the embarrassment of the moment.

“But I just don’t understand,” she persisted, her voice level rising with her amused bewilderment, “and you’re going to get a kick out of this. They have you in here as… as… well, as female!”

Oh, the laughter. The very thought of it.

I chuckled, faking it. “Can you correct it?” I repeated.

“Well, sure,” she said at last, “but I just don’t understand. It makes no sense. I mean, how could this happen? What, did you have a sex change or something?”

Oh, the laughter!

I chuckled again and remained resolute not to let my shame overtake me, but my mind was racing. What explanation could I give to bring an end to this awkward moment? Should I lie? I just can’t lie anymore, I’ve lied enough. Tell the truth? This good woman would feel mortified and doubtless I would have to reassure her that it’s okay, I appreciate her apologies and really, I’m all right. And by now a confession would invite even more stares than I was already receiving from the curious folks in the waiting room.

“Can you correct it?” I asked for the third time, impressed by my casual tone. And she did. But afterward, with a smile and a wagging finger, she warned me that she was sure not to forget me anytime soon. I agreed.

***

So, as I approached this other receptionist, I handed her my health card with disguised apprehension. I had no way of knowing for certain what information her records would display about me.

I watched with disproportionate interest as she looked repeatedly from card to computer. “Has any information changed?” she asked without looking up.

“Maybe,” I said, unable to see her screen. “But,” I added, “if all the information is the same as what’s on the card then nothing’s changed.”

They matched, thank God. I had been saved the explanation.

My relief floated me through the two-hour wait past my appointment time. Eventually I was led into a room where an unfamiliar resident doctor sat uncomfortably across from me and tiptoed around any words that sounded like “trans.” He asked a few questions, noted my current testosterone dose — injections, not Androgel as was recorded in his file — and misspelled the names of the two medications I take for the resulting acne. Pen poised to take notes, he made several awkward attempts to ask about my libido. That was a first for me. I stumbled over an answer. I’m shy.

When the resident doctor had completed the preliminaries and sent for the evasive endocrinologist it was another half hour before I was visited by the man who made my transition physically possible. I stood, shook hands with him and sat back down, expecting a consultation, only to discover him leaning on the door with his hand on the handle. I deduced it would be a short appointment.

“So,” he said in his kind and quiet voice. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Fine,” I said with a transparently reassuring smile.

“Are you growing a beard yet?”

I grabbed at my little goatee. Did it count? “Well, it’s just coming in in patches on my cheeks, so no, not yet.”

“Well,” the old man said with the kind of smile that anticipates some humour, “puberty does take a couple of years, and that’s what you’re going through — puberty.”

“Yup!” I recalled having run through all my jokes about that same comment at our last appointment.

“Well, we have your blood test results,” he said, moving on. “Your hemoglobin is high but they tell me it’s high normal so I’m not worried. I think it’s time for you to see some people in Toronto. I think it’s time to refer you to the Clarke for any further surgical process.”

“You mean to CAMH?” I prodded, uneasy with his use of that outdated name.

“Right, right,” he answered. “I keep forgetting that they changed their name. They’ll always be the Clarke to me.”

The Clarke ( er, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) — is notorious for its anachronistic approach to treating transsexuals. But I badly wanted to get on that elite waiting list, the gateway to government-funded sexual reassignment surgery in Canada. I’d already stretched every dollar and fundraised every sympathetic friend to restore the upper half of my body. And although bottom-half surgeries for trans guys are risky, expensive and frequently disappointing, they can be better than nothing, so to speak.

I accepted the referral offer with sincere gratitude and was directed to the receptionist to book (or rather tentatively hold a space for) a follow-up appointment with the endocrinologist for next year.

I walked to my car with mixed feelings about the long-awaited appointment that had turned out to be abrupt and medically pointless, yet deliciously promising — I’d been handed one of the keys needed to unlock the next phase of my transition.

***

That evening, sitting with my wife in front of the fire, we talked about feelings we’d accumulated over weeks of day-to-day emotional disasters that become routine for transsexuals in transition. She was feeling drained and calloused with concern for my emotional and psychological wellbeing. I was feeling distanced and alone. Misunderstood. Broken.

She didn’t understand why I couldn’t just “snap out of it.” She wanted me to seek professional help. I told her I didn’t want to see another doctor, another therapist, psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist. None of them have ever made this any easier.

“I feel different and I’m treated different because I am different,” I said (or whined), “and that’s not going to change.”

“Well then maybe you’re just going to have to accept that,” she answered.

She was right.

We went to bed in conjugal peace but with empty stomachs and wakened feelings. I felt responsible for dragging this soulfully happy person through the shit I was born to journey through. I wondered if she understood me. I wondered what she was wondering.

If I hadn’t been exhausted I never would have fallen asleep.

***

Today is my day off and I need it. But instead of wallowing in bed or finding another way to waste another day I’ve decided to make my own fortune. I need to feel happy today. I figure I’m due.

My wife has been doing overtime since the recession cut back my work hours, but I need her to forget about money and come home early today. She’s due for a little happiness too.

After I finish writing this I’ll clean the house — a clean house always feels good — and then spend the afternoon preparing for our evening together. I’ve decided to make stuffed festival squash for dinner and I’m going to insist that she partake in some of our homemade wine in lieu of her favourite drink, water. Candles on table, table by fireplace. Bingo.

For dessert, a bar of vegan chocolate and fresh fruit. But I’m saving the best for last, the after-dessert: my gourmet vegan pizza wraps to top the evening off with stuffed stomachs and a low-budget horror flick. An evening of enjoyment, a homemade remedy.

If I can’t always make it out in the world I might as well make sure that home is good, a place of refuge and repairs and rest. It won’t make everything right, I know, but it ought to help make the wrong out there feel distant and impotent, if only for a few hours a day.