Saturday, August 31, 2019

Facial Feminization Surgery - Part 2: Surgery

Out celebrating the legal win that made my FFS possible.
The procedure was set for Tuesday, August 20th at 7:30am. Starting at midnight the night before I was not suppose to eat or drink anything at all. But I was supposed to shower with Ivory soap. It had to specifically be Ivory soap. I'm not sure why. That night I wasn't too frightened or nervous. I knew I would be, but I wasn't that night. I figured that when it came time I would do the same thing I did when I got my name legally changed. I would ignore the fear and just put one foot in front of the other.

On that morning, I woke up at 4am. While Kath walked our two little dogs, I got dressed in yoga pants and tank top. I figured the tank top would be easier to put on and take off with a face full of bandages. We took a car to the hospital in Manhattan. My surgery would be with Dr. Bella Avanessian of Mt. Sinai.

For a little bit we waited in the lobby (which featured some lovely 1970s-esque furniture and an ear, nose, and throat mural-) before getting called over to a little cubicle. There I filled out some insurance paperwork and gave Mt. Sinai my address for what must have been the 38th time since I first called about a consultation. I also got my hospital ID bracelet. Once it was around my wrist the whole thing felt that much more official.

As we headed up to the surgical waiting room/prep room, I wasn't quite afraid yet. Sure, I was relaxed, but I knew the real fear would come. The surgical prep room was like a giant ER. There were little curtained off beds lining the walls and plenty of nurses, doctors, and medical equipment. We were shown to a rather spacious corner to suite to wait.

There were folded up hospital gowns and a disposable hospital hat that was like a paper shower cap. I didn't put anything on yet. I figured they would tell me when. Of course, not long after I made that decision, the Physician's Assistant came in to countermand it. So I took off my comfy pajamas and donned my nervous making hospital gown. Though I didn't bother with the hat. They were going to be cutting my head anyway. No point in a hat.

At that moment I was a little nervous. I kept asking Kath if she was going to be okay with me having FFS. Of course she was. She had been since the moment I first mentioned it. She was even excited about it because she finds medical procedures fascinating. But she had met me and fell in love with me eight years ago with one face. And now I was going to alter it. Maybe I needed her to reassure me.

This was something I wanted and something I fought for. I kept reminding myself of that fact. And I also kept reminding myself that I could literally say no and walk away at any point. Well, at least until they knocked me out. Once that had started there would be no going back.

Our second visitor was the anesthesiologist. They got my height and weight (also about the 25th time Sinai had gotten that specific information). Then they talked me through the general anesthesia process and asked if I had any questions. Of course I did!

So she explained that yes, redheads do need more anesthetic than other people. My natural hair color is reddish and not fully red, so I'm good. Also, I asked her about anesthesia awareness. It's the horrible thing where you "wake up" during surgery and are entirely aware yet unable to communicate or move a muscle. So you just endure the pain of the operation. It's a real 'I have no mouth yet I must scream' type situation. She assured me that it's rare and getting more rare. It's only really an issue in ER's when they have to do a rush anesthesia job and often have to guess at a patient's weight.

After that my surgeon came in and ran through the procedure with me. First she asked me what I wanted done and compared it to the notes she had put together during our consultation. One thing she hadn't mentioned before was that my X-rays showed that one brow bone was too thin to be shaved down. It would have to be broke and re-set. "Do what'll look best," was my response. That had me a little more worried. What if this didn't come out good? Plus she just seemed so casual about the whole thing. To me this was one of the biggest milestones in my life but to her it was a Tuesday. Kath tried to reassure me by reminding me that it was good to have a casual doctor. You want someone experienced for whom doing FFS is nothing.

Then it was time. This was when the fear really hit me. This was happening. My facial feminization surgery was really going to happen. I was in fact going to get my face cut off, my bones ground down, and then my face stapled back on. Okay, it was more complex than that, but that's the basic idea.

So, I followed the physician's assistant and a nurse over to the door to the operating rooms. At the doors I stopped to kiss Kath goodbye and to tell her how much I loved her. Just in case I died. Although Kath had assured me that I wouldn't die on the table. After probably too sappy a goodbye, I went through the door and followed the nurses down the hall to a far too nondescript door. That was my operating room.

Okay, this is where the fear really got to me. That operating room had a lot of equipment in it. There were silver medical looking machines lining all the walls. Gigantic And the table in the middle seemed so small. I looked over and saw some scalpels and other tools on a table. Those were about to be used to cut up my flesh. What oddly got me was that I had walked into the room myself. I had always pictured being prone on the table and wheeled into the room. But no, I had walked in. I would actually have to get on the table and lie down myself. My stomach was tied in knots that I tried not to think about.

"I could get up and walk away right now," I thought to myself. I could leave and I wouldn't have to endure weeks of pain and recovery. I wouldn't have to risk anything going wrong. But I pushed those thoughts away. This is something I had wanted for years. This is something that I fought for. This is something that was truly life changing. I wanted this. So I got up on the table.

"Michelle Hendley did this," I thought to myself. "Contrapoints did this. I can do this." The anesthesiologist hooked up the drip to my arm. I felt a sharp pain for the briefest of moments. First the drip was going to give me some Valium to calm me down. Then the knock out drugs would follow. I don't know if it was just me or if it was the Valium, but I started joking with the nurses. "This is like that scene in Captain America," I said. "I'll go into the machine and come out stronger on the other side." Then they put the oxygen mask on. I remembered that Kath had said something about it smelling like plastic. Then I was out.

Facial Feminization Surgery - Part 3: Recovery

Nice hospital room view.
It's been almost two weeks and I still can't whistle. And I still look terrible. I'm all bruised up and swollen. Part of my chin and lower lip are still numb. One of my eyelids remains droopy. And I'm bloody well sick of trying and failing to sleep with my head elevated. But hey, at least my facial feminization surgery is done. One more check mark on the ol' transition to do list.

When I work up after the surgery, it was like waking up mid-dream only I couldn't remember the dream at all. I do remember muttering something about my job. It was likely that someone asked me what my job was, making conversation to gauge my responsiveness. As I was wheeled out to the recovery area, all I remember feeling was extreme thirst. My mouth was bone dry. In my post-anesthesia haze I asked for water and ice chips, which were soon brought to me.

As I laid there sucking down ice, I started to feel the tightness in my head. It felt heavy like a bowling ball and my skin felt like it was stretched to the point of breaking. I had loads of bandages I didn't dare touch. My legs were strapped into a blood-clot preventing massage aparatus, and I still had the IV hooked up to the stint in my arm.

After a few minutes or possibly an hour or two (I have no idea), they wheeled me up to my hospital room on the 7th floor. I remember asking about Kath and being told she was waiting for me upstairs, but I have no real memory of being wheeled up to 7.

In fact, the next few hours are fairly hazy. Upstairs, Kath was indeed there waiting for me. While it was wonderful to see her and to have here there, I continued to have fairly bad memories of that time. I remember sipping ice water through a straw and her saying something about walking our dogs. There were also flowers that a departing FFS patient had gifted to me. Though I was kind of out of it, apparently I kept apologizing for being boring and not entertaining enough.

Every few minutes or so another nurse, or nurse's assistant, or physician's assistant would come by with drugs, questions, or drink and ice refills. From one of them I learned that I had been both catheterized during the procedure so it might take me a while to pee. Also, I'd been intubated during the procedure as well, i.e. a big ol' plastic tube had been shoved down my tracheae. That had left my tracheae inflamed and swollen which is not too great for your breathing.  But they gave me a breathing game to play with!

The way you win the breathing game is by getting a high score on the plastic breathy-tube thing they gave me. You have to breath in while keeping a little indicator between two arrows. Actually it felt good to practice. My lungs reminded me of my smoker days. Though I've never been asthmatic, I felt like I imagined an asthma attack would. I was breathing shallow. And because my nose was packed with so much medical stuff, I could only breath through my mouth.

Breathing was really the hardest part. A few times I even had slight panic attacks because I felt like I wasn't breathing, even though I was. My blood oxygen levels were good, but it felt like I couldn't get breath. It was also tricky to try to explain this to a nurse because they hear "I can't breathe" and consider a rather serious thing. But practicing on the game was good for me. I even got a few 3000+ scores.

Mostly Kath read to me from my latest manuscript. She had been marking it up for me and had made notes of the parts that she found particularly entertaining, dramatic, or funny. I kept apologizing for being boring. Sucking on ice was about all I was doing. The nice thing at least was that there was almost no pain. There was however a lot of discomfort.

Kath was willing to spend the night, but I tried to convince her not to. It wouldn't be comfortable for her and I kind of figured I would be out it. She eventually left after dusk and I was in fact mostly out of it. Though I was kind of sad when she left. Having her there had made a rather weird, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar situation feel a little more normal and ordinary.

The night went fairly quickly, despite my sleeping for only an hour or so at a time. Because I had to breathe through my mouth, I would wake up suddenly form either dry mouth or feeling like I were gasping for air. My phone was out of my reach so I couldn't see what time it was. But at some point I had to call the nurses to turn the light out and close the door (it was surprisingly loud for a hospital late at night).

Even later than that I had to call a nurse because I had to pee. You see I couldn't get up because I was hooked into the leg messagers and the IV line. A nice nurse helped me up and walked me to the bathroom. My legs felt surprisingly weak even though I'd only been in a bed for a few hours. Due to the catheter, peeing took a while.That was something that I hadn't expected.

At some point during the night a nurse brought me a try of wet gauze squares for eyes. It was to reduce swelling. So I slept with those on my eyes. Though I was interrupted a few times for drugs and vitals checks, the night went by surprisingly quickly for a weird, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable place. I guess my body really wanted the sleep. .

Morning brought visits from every single hospital employee and their mother. There were more drugs, vitals checks, the staffer who took menu orders, a social worker who was there to set up at home nurse visits, and a few others I don't remember. They brought breakfast pretty early. It was pancakes, a hard boiled egg, apple juice, and yogurt. Though I didn't think I was hungry, I still tore off some pieces of the pancakes and ate them. Pretty soon the pancakes were gone. Turns out I was quite hungry, having not eaten in a day and a half. I skipped the egg as eggs are gross and smell like flatulence. But I did eat the yogurt after a nurse reminded me that antibiotics can wipe out your gut flora.

The discharge process started with a physician's assistant coming in and removing my IV line. Then he started taking off my bandages. The next thing was the removal of the packing from my nose. That was one hell of a weird and squirmy sensation. It wasn't pain but it wasn't pleasant either. It was so nails up the chalk board. The packing just kept coming and coming and coming. It was like my nose was a clown car. Finally I got the two drains removed from my head incision. Getting those two out hurt like hell!

I asked the physician's assistant if I could put on my own clothes and he said it was fine. It felt so nice to be wearing actual clothes again, especially underwear. This may be TMI but I am way more comfortable when I can tuck. It feels weird to not.

Kath came to pick me up around lunch time. Lunch was a rather bland kale, mozzarella and chicken pasta. I ate it all, including the slice of bread on the side. Finally came a visit from a doctor who ran through all the questions we had and provided us with after care instructions. Kath had been compiling questions for the past couple of weeks. The nurses gave me a couple eye masks for filling with ice and also gave me a handful of straws. Drinking from a cup was proving a challenge. Then Kath helped me gather up all my stuff so we could leave. I was going home!

We grabbed a cab right outside the hospital. Unfortunately the driver was an ass. He kept asking personal questions about the surgery, including how much it cost. Even though I was giving one word answers he kept pressing on. He was also a terrible driver and the ride home was jerky and bumpy. But at least we were on the way home.

Kath had prepared for my return. She had gotten all seven of my prescriptions along with two over the counter pain killers on the list. Plus she'd gotten boxes of Jello, Popsicles, soup and broth just in case I couldn't have solid food. She was amazing.

The next week was kind of a blur. I looked like a monster and so spent most of time indoors. Though I did go on a few walks because they'd been recommended for preventing blood clots and strengthening my lungs. That first week I tried to ice my face as much as possible. Usually I would listen to stand up while I did that, although Jen Kirkman and Kumail Nanjiani both mad me laugh so hard I nearly busted a stitch.

In fact I had to be extra careful around my face and not just with laughing. I was afraid to touch anything because my discharge instructions had included an admonition to just not bother with anything above my neck. So I didn't except for ice.

Bruising and swelling peaked around day three. That's when I looked my worst. It was terrible to see myself in the mirror all bruised up and swollen. Plus one eye was droopy and the white of that eye was bloody. The hardest thing though was sleeping sitting up. That's an unnatural position for me and doing it for a week is hell on one's tail bone. Sponge baths did improve my morale. But mostly that week was spent on TV (Fringe and Community), playing Civilization VI, and waiting for the check up that was scheduled for day eight.

I grew desperate for that check-up. It would be my chance to learn if everything was going well. My swelling and bruising looked so bad. Were my numb chin and lower lip normal or signs of nerve damage? What about my droopy/bloody eye? Was that normal? Was any of this going to be permanent?! I really wanted reassurance from medical professionals.

On day eight I ventured out into real society for the first time in a week. Sure I had been on walks but this meant going on the subway and into Manhattan. Thankfully my doctor said that I was healing well. That was a huge relief. She assured me that my droopy eye was swelling, that my bloody sclera was related to the bruising, and that my numbness was normal and would subside in a few months. I got my nose splint off, my stitches taken out of my nose (ouch!), and the staples taken out of my head (no pain). Plus I was told that I could shower, wash my hair, and shave my face in a couple days. That was the best news! 

You have no idea how nice that first shower was. I had gotten so grimy over that week! And being able to finally shave my face was wonderful and made me feel normal. Although shaving is actually quite difficult when you can't feel your face.

My chin and lip have, I think, been improving. My chin is still numb but the feeling is coming back in weird ways. It's like a mix of half remembered and confused sensations. There's pressure and pain. My lower lip feels chapped even though it isn't. And sometimes my chin itches but I can't scratch it because it's numb! How does that work?! It's frustrating because I still have to use straws to drink and food is hard to eat unless it's cut into small pieces. Sandwiches are off the menu for a little bit.

My eye is still droopy and a little bloody, but both have improved. My swelling has gone way, way down, as has my bruising. Week two has really been about waiting to heal. I've been going on longer walks although I do run out of gas after only a little while. So I've been trying to stay rested. My lungs are much, much better. And I can start the see what the final results will look like. And that's exciting.

On day 14, two weeks after surgery, I finally decided to get pretty. I showered, washed my hair, shaved all over, did my makeup and put on a new dress. Though my foundation isn't opaque enough to hide bruises and though I'm still fairly swollen, it felt amazing to go out on a nice day being pretty. I really can see the results. I'm still healing. There's tons of more healing to do. But of what I can see of future me, I'm happy with. This is going to be so amazingly life changing.

Post FFS - Day 14.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Facial Feminization Surgery - Part 1: Legal Win!

The last few months have been a fight. My insurance initially denied my claim, meaning they refused to pay for my FFS. They said, despite letters from my doctors and therapists, that it was an entirely cosmetic procedure. Luckily, I had gone to a "Getting Insurance to Cover Your FFS" talk at last year's Philadelphia Transgender Wellness Conference. Otherwise I would have never even know that I could fight them. And fight them I did. It's been exhausting but I kept fighting. 

First there was a peer to peer review wherein doctors from the surgical team would meet with doctors from the insurance company to go over everything. That happened and the insurance company still said no. So next up was a formal appeal from my surgeon. The health insurance company said no to that one as well. Meanwhile I'm on my third surgery date and my 3,000th form. 

With that, my only option was to launch an external appeal through New York State. Thankfully my surgeon was able to provide an attorney to reach out. That attorney referred me to a second attorney. They were able to help me. Firstly though, there was a retainer agreement. I mean, you can't do anything with a lawyer without having something in writing, right? It also felt really grown up to say things like "let me talk to my attorney" or "I have a legal counsel on retainer." 

My legal counsel then put together an affidavit based on my doctor and therapist letter. The idea was to show that this procedure was legitimate. Again, I had to bear my soul and tell about how I am sometimes literally frightened that being clocked might lead to ridicule and violence, that I didn't feel comfortable with my own bones, and that FFS could make me feel normal. Thankfully I had a co-worker who's a notary as the affidavit needed to be good and official.

"It's unlikely that the decision will be overturned," my attorney cautioned me. They told me all about what was established protocol for transgender care. They said that maybe in the future FFS would be covered, but right now the Empire State wasn't really considering it vital. Top and bottom surgery and HRT are covered, but FFS generally isn't. 

So I braced myself for a loss. I was basically certain that I was going to lose. I have top and bottom surgery scheduled over the next year so I figured that any action on FFS was going to have to wait until at least autumn of 2020 at the earliest. Maybe the state would change its mind by then and demand that insurance cover FFS. Maybe I would win the lottery in that time or inherit some money from a long lost wealthy uncle. Either way, the decision on FFS was probably going to be addressed in late 2020. 

It was a Friday and I was at work. It was about 11am and I got a random call from a 212 number. For those who don't know that's the Manhattan area code. Since I live in Brooklyn (718) and since everyone has cell phones, 212 numbers are primarily used by businesses. So, when you get a call from one it's usually something official. This one was someone official. It was my lawyer!

My lawyer called to tell me that we had won! I had won my external appeal! My health insurance company's denial was "overturned in full!" My facial feminization surgery was being covered by my health insurance company! The legal fight I had been engaged in since April was over. And I had emerged triumphant!

For the rest of Friday I could barely work. I just had this surge of nervous energy. It was actually happening! This was actually happening! It was so overwhelming. I was so excited, nervous, and also relieved. As soon as I got the news I texted my partner Kath but she wasn't responding. I figured she was in a meeting. So I went and got a large iced tea and took a walk. It was really happening. And it was happening in about a week! About an hour later, I did get a series of excited texts back from Kath. This was really happening! 

That night Kath had plans to hang out with a co-worker. I had tickets to a Regrettes show. But I had to run home and walk the dogs. It was fine since my show didn't start till late. Of course, you introverts out there know what happened. Once I was in my own home and in comfy clothes I barely wanted to move much less go up to Williamsburg for a show. So I ordered a pizza and set out to binge watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was tired. I was burned out. I had won a legal fight and figured that a night of me time would be what I needed to let go of all the stress, worry, and exhaustion. But that was not to be. 

After a couple slices of pizza and an episode of Buffy, it was only 8:45pm. The show didn't start till 9pm. So I thought, I could grab a Lyft and be up there by time the opening band goes on. After throwing on a punkier outfit and smearing on some heavier eyeliner (it was a punk show after all), I grabbed a car and headed up to the show. 

Oh my god, the Regrettes show turned out to be exactly what I needed. For those of you who don't know who the Regrettes are (you philistines), they're a fun, feminist, pop punk/power pop band with a touch of surf and rockabilly. They put on a fantastic live show. And this was actually their album release show. Their second album was out that day. Plus it was a small venue - only 250 capacity. And all 250 of those fans turned out to be crazy Regrettes fans like me. 

The band played mostly old favorites and the crowd (myself included) went crazy. We were all singing along and bouncing. There was a mosh pit and I threw myself into the thick of it. I hadn't moshed in probably 20 years. I let the crowd shove me around had a gigantic smile on my face. It was like a Pentecostal church. I let go of myself and I let go of all the frustration and anger and exhaustion of the past few months. That concert healed me.

When I was growing up Evangelical, I never once felt the Spirit, what the Apostle Paul called "the peace that passes all understanding." Never experienced it once. I prayed for it, begged God to let me feel the Holy Spirit, to let the Spirit come to me so I could shake and tremble and roll on the floor and speak in tongues like the other people in my church. But it never happened for me. But I did feel something like that at punk shows. It's funny. But I guess my Rock & Roll is my religion.

I had a week to go until my surgery. It was funny but when I looked in the mirror I didn't feel like I needed to say goodbye to my old face or anything. I don't like a few parts of it after all. And I was going to get those fixed. I wasn't nostalgic. Instead I was hopeful. I'd have a year of surgeries and then I'd be done. I'd be finished with my transition. That was a nice feeling. It felt a bit like that first tall hill on the roller coaster. You go up inch by inch, click by click, the apex of that hill looming closer and closer, a wild ride in your near future. But for now it's just click, click, click. 

I was feeling scared, excited, and hopeful all at once. One week to go. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just keep going. Because the ride is about to start.

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.