Thursday, August 1, 2019

Rückkehr Nach Berlin. Kapitel Eins (Return to Berlin, Part One).

So, I make no secret of the fact that I love the city of Berlin. A year and a half ago Kath and I first visited the city and immediately fell in love with it. That trip was in fact my first time travelling abroad as my true self, a feat which was quite exhilarating. And I learned that German security is much cooler with silicon breast forms than the TSA.

But we fell hard for Berlin. The city is ultra-modern but also has some old Soviet grit too. It's pleasant in many ways that US cities are not. It's wonderful. Or wunderbar, if you will. As soon as we got back to New York, we vowed to return to Berlin again soon.

Tag Eins 

Since our first trip had mostly focused on East Berlin, this time we wanted to explore more of the West. We started out in Schöneberg which has something of a reputation as Berlin's "gayborhood." It's where David Bowie lived when he wrote and recorded his Berlin Trilogy. It's also where Bowie's one time girlfriend, transwoman Romy Haag, ran her cafe. It was a spot frequented not only by Bowie, but by Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Freddy Mercury, Lou Reed, and Mick Jagger.

These days the neighborhood feels less rock and roll and more like a basic residential neighborhood. The only noticeably gay thing about it that we noticed were a couple of fetish wear and sex shops. I did manage to find a record by Einstürzende Neubauten, generally considered the first industrial band. It was third record, one where they started to have actual songs instead of avant garde records full of construction noises. We actually spent most of our time exploring KaDeWe, which is a ginormous and beautiful West Berlin department store. 

Sadly, Kath would end up coming down with a bit of a cold on our first day! So, we went back to the hotel so she could rest. Okay, at that point I was seriously determined to go out and explore Berlin. Even if Kath were going to spend the trip sick in bed, I was going out, dang it! It wouldn't be a long first night out for me either though. 

For one thing Berlin is further north than NYC and the sun doesn't set till almost 9:45pm! It was insanely hot out too. We had landed a during a freak heat wave and the temperature our first night was almost 100F. Still, I was determined to brave it. 

I ended up going out and grabbing a doner kebab, Berlin's specialty. The place I stopped in was around the corner from our hotel so it was full of Americans. I was determined to be better than the average American tourist though! Unlike the others, I ordered in German! 

Now, my German is okay. It's like D- level. I know about 300 nouns and maybe 35 verbs. From those I can construct enough to get by in most situations. When a German person speaks however, I can understand a couple of words a sentence. Usually that's enough that I can get the gist of what they're saying. Sometimes though, the German comes at me way too fast and all I can do is say 'ja.' That's how I ended up with mayonnaise on my fries. Unfortunately, my doner wasn't very good either.

I ended up exploring a little bit around the hotel. But I ended up frustrated. Not only was it super hot out, there didn't seem to be much around the hotel. That left me a little frustrated. My ideal hotel is right smack in the middle of a walk-able area full of amazing bars, shops, and restaurants. We were next to a the remains of a bombed out train station and that seemed to be about it. So I ended up grabbing a couple beers and some Haribo at a tabac and turning in a little early. 

Tag Zwei

The next day we got up fairly early because Kath had gotten us tickets to a history tour for my birthday. I started my vacation a little unhappy with my appearance. The first thing was that I had dyed my hair right before the trip. I thought it would be a lovely red but it turned out to be a kinda gross orange. It was too late to change it. On top of that, my whole body was itchy and red. I thought it might be because I wasn't drinking as much water as I was used to. So I tried copious amounts of lotion. It didn't fix it. So I was stuck with orange hair and reddish skin. It was a combination I didn't like on me.

As the trip went on, my skin got worse. It even started breaking out in little red bumps. I searched online but nothing was helpful. Apparently every single skin issue in the world can cause little red bumps and itchiness. I figured it wasn't scabies or bed bugs since Kath was immune. I started to suspect that it was an allergic reaction to my hair dye. On top of that my first day's exploration had left me seriously sun burnt. The only foundation I had brought was my super pale gothy one. On my darker skin it looked like clown makeup. So, I ended up not really taking too many photos on this trip. Mostly because I looked terrible and wasn't confident in my apperance.

Our tour was a walking tour about Third Reich history. A part of me felt really embarrassed by this. I imagined Germans overhearing the tour guide talk to us Americans, and looking down on for being obsessed with Hitler and the Nazis. I thought they would judge us for being interested in that. So I was a bit apprehensive at first. 

But one fun thing about the tour was that it started at the Zoo Bahnhof. I knew a little bit about this station because of the West German book and movie Christiane: Wir Kinder Vom Zoo Bahnhof. Sometimes called "The German Trainspotting," it's the semi-true story of a young teenage girl who is involved in drugs and prostitution in 1970s West Berlin. 

The tour turned out to be really interesting. We saw the spot where the July 20 conspirators of the Schwarze Kapelle (the Black Orchestra) were killed after launching an unsuccessful coup to oust Hitler. We saw several memorials to the victims of the Nazis as well as the apartment complex parking lot which was the site of Hitler's bunker. We saw the exact spot where Hitler ended up in a ditch covered in petrol on fire. 

After the tour ended at 2pm, we found a small cafe to eat lunch. We had pork schnitzel. It was the first of our many "brown food" meals. Kath, you see, loves German food. But, most German food is nothing more than meat and potatoes. It can be a little boring. Thankfully though, good beer is plentiful. And everywhere in Germany has kristalweiss, which is my favorite beer.

Right as we started on our lunch a huge thunderstorm erupted. We ended up sitting out under the awning and drinking beer after beer waiting for the storm to subside. It took a couple hours, but thankfully the staff didn't mind.

With a tiny bit of rain still drizzling down, we went around the corner to the Mall of Berlin so I could buy some toiletries. Personally I hate the 3oz rule when it comes to air travel. It means that right after arrival I always need to find a spot to get some basics including some new foundation.

We ended the night at Lardons, a little restaurant in Prenzlaur Berg. A friend of mine from high school lives in the neighborhood and is always able to recommend the best restaurants and bars. Kath got some summer asparagus. It's big in Berlin. Seriously. Seemingly every restaurant in the city was advertising their asparagus meals. Ham, hollandaise, and asparagus is apparently a summer favorite for Germans. I ended up having the best food I'd ever eaten in Berlin. It was a simple pasta was garlic pesto. But it had some serious garlic. It was super good!  Dinner also involved far too much Riesling and of course naturally we went to cool bar nearby for more drinks. It's Berlin after all.

Tag Drei 

Friday we decided to rent bikes from the hotel. It would turn out to be a great decision! Berlin is nice and flat and there are bike lanes on every last street. Riding around the city is wonderful. We were technically staying in Kruezberg, but it was on the border of Potsdamer Platz, Mitte, and Schöneberg. Okay, remember how I said that our hotel wasn't near anything? I was wrong. It turns out that when I explored the first night I went the one single way that led to nothing. Had I gone any other direction I would have run into some of Berlin's busiest neighborhoods. Ah well. It was good to learn. 

We went back to Prenzlaurberg, this time to explore on our own. Mostly we just bounced around from shop to shop looking for interesting things. In one little store we found a great print of a cat in an astronaut suit. Since we already had one picture of a cat-stronaut up in our bathroom, we figured we had to have the second one. Who doesn't want a cat astronaut themed bathroom right? For lunch we were weird and got pizza. It felt like we were cheating on New York a little. But the pizza was pretty good. 

While in Prenzlaur Berg, we also stopped in Kulturbrewery. It was a spot we had visited on our last trip but it's really cool. It's a giant former brewery which has been turned into a concert venue and office park. Wanting to escape the heat, we decided to check out the Kulturebrewery Museum. We figured it would be a small museum about the history of the building. We couldn't have been more wrong. 

Instead, it turned out to be an amazing museum all about life in communist East Germany (DDR). It was huge and its many exhibits were all about the day to day life of average people in the DDR. It was a quasi-Soviet state so everyone was assigned to collectives. Basically your collective would be made up of your company. So if you worked in the brewery, you would be in a collective with all your co-workers. You were expected to socialize with your co-workers and even go on vacations with them! An introverts nightmare! 

Good workers, those who met quotos and went to the collective's knitting circle or bowling nights, would be allow to go on vacation. And the only vacation available was a ticket to your collective's lodge on the Baltic. There was also stuff about how information got smuggled into the DDR from the West, how East German supermarkets worked (not well), and how the government encouraged everyone to spy on each other. 

Late in the afternoon, we biked all the way across the city. It was about 8 miles to get home and it took us through some pretty hairy areas in Alexanderplatz and Mitte. But, we wanted to drop the bikes off back in the hotel before we went out. That night we had tickets to go see Ex Hex in Kruezberg. Unfortunately, once we got back to the hotel we fell asleep! After our nap I was feeling sluggish and I not really up for a show. But Kath convinced me to go. Luckily there was a bus that ran by our hotel and shot straight over to Kreuzberg. 

By the time had gotten over there, the show had already started. But I didn't mind. Ex Hex is a fantastic band and its front woman Mary Timony is a legend in female-fronted music circles having founded Autoclave, Helium, and Wild Flag among other projects. It was a fantastic show and the German audience seemed really into it. They demanded encore after encore until the band literally gave up and said "We don't have any more songs!" 

After the show, we had find our bus stop, which was not easy as that area of Kreuzberg has a lot of diagonally criss-crossing streets and a couple of different train tracks running down the middle. It was late, after midnight, and for the first time in Germany I didn't really feel that safe. Because of my weird rash thing and weird foundation mismatch, I wasn't feeling comfortable about my appearance. 

Lacking confidence is not a great thing for a transwoman who's in a foreign city late at night. Plus there were lots of groups of young men sort of standing around. That always makes my transie-sense tingle. Groups of men not doing anything feel super threatening to me. All I need is one person to decide to call me out and a situation can go south pretty quickly. So I was super nervous. Being lost and having my phone's map app up as we wandered around only made me more nervous. Here I was broadcasting "tranny" and "American tourist." 

Thankfully though, we found our bus stop and made it home safely. We were exhausted and there was so much more Germany to be had! Saturday was going to be our big day. That was the day we were going to head to Leipzig for Wave Gothic Treffen, the world's largest goth festival!

Oh, and speaking of goth. I saw this dress in a window in Prenzlaur Berg. How beautiful is that? I only wish they had it in black. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Milestones and Frustrations

Today's a big day for me! Today I cross the threshold. You see, as of today I have been working at my job as me (the real feminine me) longer than I have worked as my old (more masculine) self! Exciting.

Back in September of 2016 I had my first, nerve wracked conversation with Human Resources. And I still need to get my Lorde "Bravado" tattoo that I had promised myself. In November of that year I started working as the real me. It was a decision that required a lot of courage and a huge leap of faith. But I'm so glad I did it. In retrospect it seems like it has been no big deal. But the anticipation of it was scary to say the least. It's been really fantastic though.

And today marks that point where I have officially been working here longer as me than as old boy me. Exciting! A real reason to celebrate.

In other news, my fight to get my insurance company to pay for facial feminization surgery continues without an end in sight. I've moved my potential surgery date back to late summer. From what I understand they have denied my second appeal. That means that I will be pursuing an external appeal with the help of legal counsel.

Of course doing that requires getting a written notice of the appeal denial. Five or six calls and I'm still trying to get my hands on that written notice. It's frustrating to say the least, especially with a surgery date looming. And people wonder why I'm a socialist. Ah well. We keep up the good fight because there's nothing else to do.

Except to stop sometimes to celebrate big milestones. :)

Friday, April 26, 2019

Transition Isn't Sad

My last post was something of a downer. And it got me thinking. I remember years ago (thinking mid-90s) I watched a documentary on Discovery Channel. It was a British made documentary that followed two or three transgender women as they went about their transition. Of course it was fascinating to watch. The whole time I was enthralled, but at the same time afraid someone might walk in and see what I was watching. Thankfully no one did. 

But something struck me about the documentary. Its tone was decidedly a mournful one. One transwoman was working as an exotic dancer to pay for her surgery and another was an older woman who was having trouble finding work in the field where she had been employed for twenty years or more. Transition was presented as sad.

And I think this is an idea that pervades our culture in a lot of ways. It's a carryover from that whole stupid idea of trans-people, especially trans-women as "freaks" at the fringes of society. In this view trans-people are to be puttied for the painful lives they endure. A lot of media focuses on homelessness, poverty, sex work, or violence against trans-people. The whole thing presents this ever present idea that transition is sad, that trans people are to be pitied.

While there are legitimate issues that trans people face, including all of the above and a heaping helping of discrimination, I don't think transition is sad. And I don't think transgender people are, on the whole, a sad group.

Transition is a wonderful thing. It's the moment when you truly accept yourself. It's an adventure. It's fun. Oh my gosh, it is so much to just be myself every single day. I get to do that! I wish I could go back in time and tell a sixteen or twenty-five year old me how great this is, how much fun their life turns out to be. Transition is so much fun. I'm just me now. There's no more hiding, no more secret to be kept. I'm out, I'm proud, I'm me. And I'm having fun.

But like anyone I will have my down times. Transition does mean dealing with stupid stuff too. But on the whole it's amazing. I'm glad I did it and it is not at all sad. Pity me not! But also speak up when you encounter transphobia.

Hope you're having fun with your transition too.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Facial Femization Surgery: The Insurance Blues

It started last Wednesday. Upon coming home from work I checked the mail and saw a letter from my insurance company. Before I even walked my dogs, I tore it open. And though I kinda knew what it was going to say, I still shook my head in annoyance and disbelief. The insurance company had denied coverage for my facial feminizaiton surgery. They had decided that this was purely cosmetic and thus not covered by my policy.

Though I knew intellectually that this sucked, I was numb. This numbness had been building for a good month or so. It had been a non stop back and forth between my surgeon, my general practitioner, mental health professionals, and my cardiologist. First I had to get three letters, then they needed to be updated. Then the insurance requested a fourth letter. Then I ended up playing a frustrating game of telephone where my surgeon and my cardiologist were talking through their receptionists, then me, then other receptionists, then practitioners and surgical coordinators. Getting any single document was a completely frustrating experience. Once I had finally gotten everything I was left utterly drained.

At home that night, I was by myself. Kath was out with coworkers and I was alone. I wanted to cry. But I couldn't. Finally I resorted to watching especially emotional video clips on YouTube. The power speech from the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Whip It trailer, and what finally got me was Jennifer Garner's speech in Love Simon, the one where she first talks to her son about his coming out.

Once the tears came I started to sob and I kept sobbing, just letting it all out.

And I took a picture. And I shared it on Instagram. Why? Because I always share my best. That's what everyone on the internet does right? That's social media. We all share our happy vacation pics, our best photos with our best makeup, us having great fun and us being fancy. Well, I didn't want to show that. I wanted to, for once, not show the polished me, but rather the real emotion. No filters.

Transition isn't always perfect. Sometimes you will break down. Sometimes you will be so overwhelmed with emotion that you feel numb and have to force yourself to break down. Sometimes you'll have to submit tons of letters with embarrassing, super personal details about your life and emotions to faceless insurance company bureaucrats only to be told that your pain is about nothing but superficial vanity.

There's something I always say, on Gender Rebels or to the listeners who write up. Transition is the time when you discover how strong you really are and how strong you always have been. And it is. I really think that is true.

At this point in my transition, I'm discovering just how utterly true that really is. Though a part of me was relieved to get denied. It meant that the frustration might end. But, I'm going to keep going. Already I've reached out to a lawyer who specializes in this sort of case. So I'm going to do a formal written appeal as well as an external appeal through the state.

My new date is in July. So, let's see. I'm drained, I'm exhausted, I'm super frustrated with the endless bureaucracy, but I'm going to keep fighting. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Facial Feminizaiton Surgery

Well, it's official. In 64 days I'll be going under the knife. Or is it 63 days already? Either way it is happening way sooner than I had anticipated. Needless to say I am nervous as heck, excited as well, and slightly terrified.

Yesterday I had my consultation. First off, it was rather interesting to be in a waiting room full of other trans girls. Everyone was minding their own business (as one is want to do in a waiting room) but a part of me wanted to be like "Hey, you! You look great. What are you here for?" But you can't do that, of course. Even if you pick up a transmission you can never act on it because it's just letting the other person know you think they don't pass.

After filling out a ton of forms with background information, I was then ushered into an exam room where someone sat down at the computer and asked me all the same information I had just filled out on the forms. Healthcare in America is already shit. Maybe we could improve it a bit by not going through the entire process twice here? Anywho.

Next my doctor came in. She seemed young and for some reason that always blows my mind. Of course, if I had gone to medical school right after college and residency right after that I would have already been a practicing doctor for at least seven years. It just always blows my mind though.

So my doctor walked through what's causing my dysphoria with me. For me it's my brow ridge which makes me feel like my eyes are deep in caves. It's also my nose which is straight but weirdly shaped if you see it from the side. And then there's my chin which juts out. Mostly what bothers me is my profile. I hate, hate, hate seeing myself in profile. It fills me to my depths with the despair of dysphoria. You'll notice neither this blog nor my instagram ever have a photo of me that's not taken from straight on.

She walked through the procedures with me and helped to set my expectations about what she could or couldn't do. It was funny because she more than once referred to my features as "feminine." And I'm thinking like - do you say that to everyone or are my features just feminine? Well, I mean, I didn't get cursed with Abe Vigoda or Jason Momoa face, but still.

For the most part my questions were about recovery and complications. The doctor provided me with answers (recovery for a 2-4 weeks. Nerve damage can happen but it's unlikely. It won't affect my hair transplants). Then I asked here how long the waiting list was and she said they're currently booking for May. May? Of 2019? Yes, May of 2019.

So next I sat down with the Surgical Coordinator who had more paperwork for me. She also said the next available surgery day was April 18. That was too soon for me. The next was early May. That was a little better. Granted it's only twelve days better, but I wasn't imaging this would all happen so quickly. I mean my top and bottom surgery took them a month to even get back to me. And when they did they gave me dates a year or more away. So I picked a date in early May!

Wow. Even typing that makes me nervous. As I was in the room with her I had to ask to borrow a pen because I had so much stuff to do. First I need a cardiologist to sign off, have to move some other appointments, figure out work for perhaps a month, and get some additional insurance paperwork.

In a few days I should hear back on whether my insurance will cover it. I've got multiple medical letters written by people who are experts on this. But will insurance refuse to pay? That's the real crux here. If they don't then I pay then I'm going to have to fight them on it. Then if I lose that fight I have to cancel the surgery. I sure as hell can't pay for it out of pocket.

After all of this I had to go up to radiology to get some head x-rays. And that of course involved filling out more paperwork asking me the exact questions that the previous paperwork and interview had already asked. Seriously, American healthcare? What's up? Do we need to have a talk.

Anyway, the sad thing is that they made me take off my skull earrings and skull necklace for the x-rays of my skull. How cute an image would that be! A real skull with jewelry skulls! Ah well. They wouldn't even let me take a pic of my image. They claimed it was a HIPAA violation. Sure, but it's my HIPAA. Can't I violate my own medical privacy if I want? Apparently not.

So yeah. In a couple months I'm gonna get doctors to cut my face skin, peel it back, and grind off parts of my skull. I've never had surgery. I'm scared. What if I have that thing where you're aware of all the pain but can't move or speak! What if I die on the table? Both are highly unlikely but possible. It's scary.

And I'm nervous about what the results will look like. Thankfully my doctor said that she likes to make sure people still look like them, but with softer features. That's what I want. I still want to look like me. I don't want to look like I have bad Beverley Hills matron face. And I worry about recovery too. And pain. Sure, I'm good with pain but no one likes pain.

And I'm excited because FFS is the tool that allows people to go from maybe passing some times to probably passing most of the time. And while I know passing isn't everyone's goal and it shouldn't have to be a goal, but it's still my goal. I want to be a normal girl. This is a step. And it's a step I'm taking soon.

Wish me luck.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Electrolysis Blues

Last night I had my sixth electrolysis session. For those who are counting this was my fifth facial electrolysis session. The sixth was somewhere else, an area best left unmentioned. And I gotta say I'm kinda sick of it. When I was getting ready to head out the electrolysis office I almost cancelled. But cancelling at the last moment is not only rude, it would also cost me the full session amount. So I went. Laying down with the bright light in the my face, I braced for the now usual pain, figuring that I could just bite the bullet and get through it.

Recently I had found a new electrolysis place. This first one I tried was run out of a trans-woman's apartment and I didn't real like it. It just didn't feel professional. I didn't feel entirely comfortable being poked and prodded in someone's living room. I wanted a place that felt like a business. And I found a better spot in Brooklyn. It's in an office and feels much more official and professional. Plus the first time I went the owner kept asking me about my menstrual cycle until I finally had to tell her that I was trans. So I passed! That makes me like the place even more.

But this time I when I went to the new place, I had a new practitioner. She had never done my face before and I think she had the machine turned up to high. It hurt like hell. I had put on some lidocaine cream before the appointment but it just didn't help. The electrolysis person made me ice up my face but it still hurt. After my half hour session I was so over it.

Honestly, electrolysis is not fun. It's just not. And at this point I'm sick of the constant appointments, the not shaving before hand, the special skin care routine I have to do for days after, the limitations on shaving and makeup after, the pain, all of it. And unlike laser I don't feel like I'm even seeing results.

I have to do my pre-GRS electrolysis. But I think it's time for a break on my face. I can go back to it any time. But I have my whole life to do this. Right now I'm finding electrolysis to be far worse than just shaving every day or every other day. I'll jump back in at some point. But to sum it all up, electrolysis is un-fun.