Crossing the Border, Coming Home to One’s Self

By | July 22, 2015

She sat in the compartment alone, stared from the window as the train flew through villages scattered across the Franconian hillsides like jacks tossed into a circle prior to the game. Grey stone walls, red-tiled roofs and always the spire of the town-church above everything else, cross shining across the fields and the roads where the occasional car wended its way between here and there.


Her breath made fog on the glass as she leaned almost into the window, better able to see out or wishing in some way to melt through glass and become part of the landscape she passed through.

She wondered if somehow she might become one of the flakes of snow that drifted through the afternoon air to settle into its place among the ones already fallen, adding to the half-meter already covering the earth. She thought about the crossing this morning from the Czech Republic. How unnoticeable they are, those lines made somehow on the earth, that make one tussock Bohemia and another Lower Bavaria.

She realized that she didn’t know the delineations of her own borders: where one state ended and another began. In some fashion there was nothing to mark where childhood ended and adulthood began, where old and young had passports collected and stamped by Customs as one moved slowly through the queue.

I wonder this morning as I watch the snow, looking for all the world like powdered sugar sifting onto a sheet of baked cookies, about borders. The borders of my life, of yours. How do we define those? Where do we come to the crossings that mean we’ve moved from one country to another? How do we tell we have crossed them? There are no barriers in place and id-checks, no passports are stamped by civil guards drawn up to make certain every document is properly credentialed with official seals intact. The interior landscape doesn’t conform to the exteriors we move through.

I am thinking about my friend Veronica who very soon now will cross a border in order to cross a border. When she returns she’ll be able to cross other borders. Her state will change the sex designation on her birth certificate and the Social Security Administration will change their database to indicate she’s female now, male the day before.

No doubt she’ll notice the change. Eight hours anaesthesized in a surgery may pass unconscious, but those hours will leave their mark and she’ll be very aware in a day or so that she lived through them and was wheeled out of the surgery and into her room a different person for the world, yet how different will she be? Will she abruptly be transfigured when the surgeon stitches the final stitch? At what point in the operation would enough have been done to mark the time and say: “Now she is able to be considered female?” Will there be a referee behind a glass partition in the surgery who will dutifully mark that point and write authoritatively “Now, she’s real.”

Who knows what bureaucrats and transsexing/transsexed women get up to? (For those about to be offended, that was tongue-in-cheek.) Perhaps in every OR there is such an official who notes the border-crossing and gives that initial stamp of approval allowing the surgery to go forward to its completion. But are those stamps ever enough?  Can the border-crossing be so finely noted that the exact moment becomes clear? Or is it more of a matter of when the self reconciles itself to the self?

Many of us have memories, quite clear often enough as the experience quite embedded itself within our young psyches, of understanding that we were somehow different than we’d been told by others we were at very young ages. Generally, I would think, most of us who have such recalls would also agree that puberty and the horror of finding a body changing, but not in the fashion desired, was when the knowledge finally came home with a decided force that we had crossed a border unbidden, undesired. Now there would be no going back or forward, no way we could be seen any longer as that person we knew ourselves to be.

After that there could only be injections of hormones, a series of surgeries, that would mould and shape our bodies and hearts away from the despair of depression and anxiety that Harry Benjamin’s successors came to call Gender Identity Dysphoria or Disorder. I wonder though if that is the basic line to be drawn. Is there truly some border where what we are changes so drastically that we can be said to have a syndrome, a disorder or a defect (you choose whatever word you wish. As I continue to live my life I am less inclined to divide it into discreet parts and make clear lines between this and that.)

In thinking of this I think of Alexandra’s words again, the one’s I re-published yesterday with the “vampires” piece.

I have become adept as you have at the refined deflection, so apparent to myself but often not seen by others. I appear very public but only with what I want to be public ~ then I hide doing that too by being terribly ‘there’.

I wonder sometimes if we don’t become too good at that deflection she spoke of. If somehow our deflections of the public eye aren’t intimately symbiotic with deflections of our interior gazes as well. I wonder, how much do we serve our own diminshment? How much through reflecting nothing at all or a false mirror-front we manage to deflect the gaze of others, but mostly the gaze of ourselves? What, exactly, is the purpose?

I’ll not deny, not even for an instant, that there is something invigorating, something affirming, in walking through one’s world receiving no startled looks nor any wondering scratches of heads from those we pass among. We call that amongst ourselves “presentation” as one might present a roast beef done-up with sprigs of parsley and surrounded by asparagus and summer squash so that the eye is drawn to the beauty, the normality of the presentation.

Yet, as Cathryn Platine points out in a different context, (you may find her at radicalbitch.wordpress) all of the presentation in the world cannot bring what’s not there to completion.

I was welcomed into the women’s activities, made a part of the luncheons and outings and the wider social circle without a blip, she was not although she very much wanted to be. Both of us were “out” because both of us had been on the panel so that wasn’t it. As I grew closer to some of these women I straight out asked them why and the answer was an eye opener from someone who had been exposed to the various tranny “wisdoms” of “passing”……I was real, she wasn’t. I was completely at home with my own womanhood to the point no one else would even think to question it and so it wasn’t questioned and quickly forgotten. She was never comfortable in her own skin even post operatively ….

There is at some point a recognition within of the self. Some of it, I think, is luck. To a greater degree I think Cathryn is right, it’s a matter of comfort, of releasing one’s interior to be alive in the world and not a matter of “presentation” at all. The “presentation” is always available.It’s the presentation of one’s deepest self. There’s no need to carefully crop or burnish it because one brings to the world all that she is, all that she has ever been.

I believe she’s also correct that no surgery, or set of surgeries, no training with a coach, no particular way of dress or any other accoutrement adds to what may not be there already. Somewhere it becomes a necessity for the individual to be herself, or himself. There’s no middle-ground there. No sleight-of-hand that will provide one with a short-cut or a secret way to being one’s self. The acceptance must be internal and lived.

Ask any other human being how they become who they are. After the intial puzzlement and shock at your question I believe they may tell you, provided they haven’t run from you in panic, that they simply are who they are. That’s the way they meet the world, the way they live their lives. They cross the borders as they arrive not marking the passing just moving through them.

I imagine they cannot tell you when the borders were crossed, for at some point I think you simply recognize that you’ve crossed them. Recognition comes, as it did on the Bundespost trains I used to ride, when you find that Nuernburg is outside the window and you’ve passed from Hesse into Bayern. There’s been no announcement by a conductor. You’ve noticed no abrupt change of scenery through the windows that might tell you one state’s been left and another entered. There’s simply the journey and the passing of scenes through your eyes.

There’s no doubt that when a journey begins one may think that she will go from one country to another. She might imagine beforehand that there will be some distinct place where she’ll change citizenship from Czech to German or Dutch. Afterall, it’s all there on the map, plain as day, different colors indicating different socio-political entities. How might one go from one to another without knowing?

Because, I’ve found, there is no different country one moves to or from. There is only the country one was born into, the one where her citizenship  lies. Her nativity cannot be denied for she finds the words and the pattern of the country’s movement and gestures are as familiar to her as her own thoughts.

I have disagreements with people on their political and social stances. I have no disagreements with them when it comes to recognition and acceptance into the society of one’s native land. One goes home to her birth country. She doesn’t change her citizenship, merely finds that now it’s recognizable and recognized. Thus, deflection may be unnecessary except for matters of how one’s history was actually lived. There’s the paperwork that will indicate the crossing, the change of citizenship. But, that remains for the most part private. One may share it of necessity in a security check. But, in her daily life there’s usually no need at all.

So, I consider my friend and other friends and acquaintances I’ve made through the years. I consider their struggles to assert themselves, the heartaches over build and bone, the struggles to convince themselves that a surgery or a letter on their permanent ID will somehow manage to make plain what should, I suspect, already be plain. They are natives.

I think with my friend that perhaps the surgery will delineate for her more than for those she knows or will move among after her crossing. It will be a joyous occasion, one for celebration. For that I congratulate her, warmly greet her arrival at the station where she’ll descend the train steps and look through the crowd for friends come to meet her.

But, I believe that all she can truly expect to find on that platform will be that she’s returned to the land of her birth. A place she’s dreamed of in the depths of her sleep and that she may well have despaired of ever reaching. She’ll have re-matriated herself. I also suspect that the re-matriation will have occurred long before there are sutures or surgeries. I imagine it came when she allowed herself to be who she is rather than someone who she’s not. Otherwise the surgery, the work at presentation, the confirmation of an exterior reality will never have been enough to make her truly whole except her interior landscape is the one she’s always known.

All those pretty sureties become rather vaguer and wispier. Maybe all the borders blur where you cannot tell when you pass from one country to another if there’s no wall, no fence. Perhaps that’s the truth that’s finally the most important truth of all in these transsexing journeys. One comes home and allows herself to take residence in the country of her birth.

Used by Permission.