[Emily (not her real name) wrote the following in 2001, a few years after SRS.]

When I reflect on ruminating about adjusting to life once the mechanical aspects of transition are over, the healing of surgery and such behind us, I am reminded of a passage Martha Stout's The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness. Dr. Stout discusses dissociative identity disorder (DID) but surprisingly, much of what she writes is relevant to growing up with, and finding a way to cope with finding one's self being told they belong to one gender, yet identifying internally with the other (which is what I think of when I read GID (gender identity disorder), and the resultant intense dysphoria. Perhaps the relevance of DID to GID is not remarkable considering most men and women who grow up grappling with transsexualism exist internally as one person, and externally as another, at least until transition. Even if this passage is not entirely germane, I find it thought provoking and worth including nonetheless. Paraphrasing and modifying slightly what she writes:

"People [surviving transsexualism] have usually survived the unsurvivable whether recognized or not. They did not fail to thrive and so perish in childhood, as one might reasonably have expected, nor did they commit suicide in adolescence, another bitterly common result. No, they divided themselves, and they survived; and the fact that they survived, and in many cases survived well, probably means that as a group they tend to be, by their original nature, people who have exceptional gifts. Typically they possess intellectual, interpersonal, or creative abilities that might have set them apart from the crowd even if (especially if) their histories had been different. They are superadpaters, mind boggling really.

But there is inestimable waste, the waste of a very bright candle at which tragic circumstance has for too long blown a heavy, near extinguishing mist. The flame may hiss and flash large at time, in impossibly displays of protest and vitality that are compelling to witness, but it is always in danger of fading to black.

The talents I refer to are inborn; trauma does not bestow them. Trauma is merely the cruel taskmaster. It rivets our attention but is no giver of gifts.

More generally there is the issue whether or not psychological pain bestows or perhaps enhances creativity, an old debate. It is the question of, for example, "Would a happy Charles Dickens have written A Tale Of Two Cities?" In working for many years with a great many traumatized people, artists, musicians and writers among them, I have answered this question to my own satisfaction, and my answer is this: I do not think a happy Charles Dickens would have done less brilliant work, particularly if he were happy because he has recovered from being unhappy. On the contrary, I think the natural genius of Charles Dickens would have expressed itself even more luminously, and also that the people around him would have led far more comfortable lives.

Happiness is not a mixed blessing.

I tell this opinion to those of my patients who fear they will lose a certain creative edge should they be "cured." One does not lose one's edge. If anything, it becomes a finer blade, and (the best part) one does not have to bleed for it nearly so much. A talented person is not talented because of her or his pain. She or he is talented despite it. The pain is like a gauzy gray mist that has wrapped itself several times around a priceless clear light."

Speaking for myself, the first great challenge in adjusting to life once the obvious and formidable physical goals were reached was to learn how to trust myself and my authenticity as a woman. This involved mastering fears, most of which spring from not having been validated as a woman growing up. I may have enviously observed other women from childhood on, and even vicariously experienced certain aspects of womanhood through my friendship with other women, but I had no personal cultural frame of reference through which to define and measure what it means for me to be a woman. Until I could do this, I was plagued with fears I would not assimilate and enjoy a normal life as just another woman.

I found online and through local support groups helpful information while planning then carrying out my transition. Ultimately, however, these were for me way stations on the longer journey towards self acceptance and actualization as a woman. When young girls approach puberty, they start to engage in assuming the role of a young woman. They experiment with dress, make-up and personality in an effort to try on various "ways of being" that change and evolve throughout young adulthood until a sense of their selves as women crystallizes. For me this experience was carried out online and through support groups, and of course graduating and then venturing out into the world on my own, making mistakes and learning from them. At some point you glean all you can, if anything, from those online and support groups and for better or worse strike out on your own. You cannot define yourself as a woman in society through online and real world support groups, though some make a home of what for most is a way station to happier vistas.

My greatest joy and most useful healing occurred after I stopped spending time in these way stations and began forming relationships with men and woman in the world around me. In making friendships, some deep, most superficial, with other women in particular I find great peace. I've come to understand that my former sense of what it meant to be a woman was narrow, almost a caricature, though the mistake was innocent and easy to make looking from the outside in as I did so much of my life growing up. In the locker room I have seen body shapes so many and varied that I finally shed the self consciousness of my own body, and with it, a heavy yoke of fear I'd been carrying. In the spectrum of women I've met as friends and acquaintances, I've come to understand how (in this day and age at least) so much of my past, which I feared might be seen as contrary to being a woman, is not incongruous. As a result I can speak freely of skills and interests which make up an important part of who I am, which is to say I need omit little of my life, or fabricate some false history, cloaking for example my love and interest of mathematics, or my familiarity and comfort with matters mechanical. I understand now, reflecting on my past and life growing up, that like all women I fought battles to define myself, the only difference is mine was on unconventional fronts. Peer to peer relationships with other women provide me with a healthier, confident lens through which to see the entirety of my life.

What I am trying not very successfully to say is that my relationship with other women, as a woman, helped me to find my place in the tribe of women, to feel comfortable about who I am and where I fit in to the fabric of society. In the context of an online discussion or real world support group (or specialty club, et cetera), I could not find that solace and surety. I found in these places acceptance, something crucial initially before and as we move through transition, but afterwards it felt like the blind leading the blind, or worse, self-appointed "experts" on womanhood who in fact rarely left their dark caves and ventured out in to the wide world of women themselves, judging harshly and filling with doubt those who want only to heal and assimilate.

My relationships with men are rewarding as well, though in the context of overcoming fear they were most useful when I craved validation as a woman like one emerging from a desert wants water. It is scary and difficult to find yourself starting your thirties and going on your first date. But those leaps into the unknown, and the numerous mistakes I made that now make me blush with nostalgic embarrassment, were vital in quenching the white hot anxiety that pierced my heart and flamed doubt in myself brightly. I personally dated men and women, mostly because I had no clear sense of what I wanted and I needed to try all avenues once my body was in line with my spirit. I know now that while my experience with certain men are more recent than some of my female friends, we all share memories with men while we were finding ourselves as women that make our eyes roll now, or that we can laugh about over drinks. And just like many women I know, the journey to find myself sexually and as a woman is ongoing, something else I find comforting to see in others my own age.

Shifting gears, I want to speak for a moment about another aspect of my adjustment to life after surgery, something that other women don't experience. I gave myself permission with my closest friends, those who knew how difficult my journey to self was, to share and speak of the joy and wonder I felt once the gauzy gray mist wrapped around my own piercing light as a woman had been removed. Opening myself up to this private happiness was important, and I am fortunate to have a few in my life with whom I could share my innocent delight. Happiness is always healing, and I urge all to find it wherever they may, regardless of the form, or what others may think. This is your own journey-- listen if you like and digest what others have to say, but do with it what you will and never be afraid to be an iconoclast.

Would you like to make an anonymous contribution?

If you have any advice you'd like to share, please contact me , and I'll give it a permanent (and anonymous) home.