Back from a funeral

Just back from a funeral. The man who died was a colleague in his early 50s, an extremely popular man, and the suddenness of his death has left the office in his shock. “I keep expecting to him to walk through the door,” is a remark I’ve heard several times; and it’s true, it really does just feel like he’s on holiday. I’m sure it’s different for his family: for them the absence will already be too long to feel normal; but for his co-workers, myself included, grief is precluded by a feeling of unreality.

This, i think, explains the scene at the crematorium as we all waited for the family to arrive. People were laughing and joking and talking about their everyday lives. It was only when the hearses came through the gate, bearing the coffin and the family, that a hush came over us. Suddenly, we had visible proof – if only indirectly in the form of the coffin – that a death really had occurred. We stood and watched as the procession drew nearer, preceded by two men in the uniform of the undertaker: formal coats and top hats.

At this point i was aware of a feeling of expectancy – the necessary ritual had begun. ‘Finally,’ i thought, ‘ i will understand that he’s dead.’ But as the family emerged from the hearses they were laughing and joking. They had obviously decided to make it ‘a happy occasion’. I understand why they chose to do this and the ‘celebration of life’ was very moving in parts, not to mention illuminating: i’d never realised that he was a fellow Morecambe & Wise fan. Still, i can’t help but feel that we do need in some way to address the death. A person was alive and now they are dead – and they will always be dead. We need a ritual to allow us to cross the bridge from the first of those realities to the second.

As it is, somewhere inside me i’m still expecting him to be back in work – tomorrow perhaps or maybe next week. How he’ll laugh when we tell him he’s dead…

Gender mishaps: some funny, some tragic

* PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU FIND ANY MENTION OF HUMAN GENITALIA OFFENSIVE. There you go: i’ve flagged it as ‘mature’ myself. This post may not be of much interest to non-transsexual people.*

Alan Partridge* [to his Dictaphone]: “Idea for a programme entitled ‘Yachting Mishaps’. Some funny, some tragic.”

I love this quote from I’m Alan Partridge. What’s more, i think it pretty well sums up the FTM** experience. There’s the tragedy of realising that your body has veered seriously off course in its sexual development; of becoming aware that the sexual characteristics you feel you should have naturally can only imperfectly be obtained medically, while those you wish to rid yourself of can never be fully erased. On the one hand, the problems of the current limitations on phalloplasty surgery; on the other, the too wide hips, too small hands, too short stature.

Yet there’s comedy too, even if it’s mostly unintentional. An example: the surgeon responsible for my phalloplasty forgot to tell me that i’d need to keep my newly created ‘friend’ at a 45 degree angle for some weeks following my first procedure. Not only that but it would need to be wrapped in layers of gauze and padding. The result? A member with a length and  girth that would do a stallion proud. Imagine me then as i made my way to my checkups at the surgeon’s Harley Street clinic, barely able to walk as i’d had my hysterectomy during the same operation. I am tottering along, clutching a fleece in front of my nether parts, when who should i meet but a whole battery of heavily veiled and heavily pregnant Arab ladies. Yes, indeed, there’s a fertility clinic on the ground floor. ‘Don’t drop the fleece,’ i thought to myself desperately, ‘Just don’t drop it.’ Luckily, i didn’t.

Later the same year i had the pump implanted, which – how can i put this – enables the new penis to go up and down. At the consultation i had with the surgeon’s nurse prior to the operation she showed me the mechanism that would be going into my body. In particular, she drew my attention to the blue dot in one area. “This dot”, she explained, “marks the place that you press when you need to ‘deflate’”. “Hang on a minute”, i said, “it’s going to be inside my body. How on earth will i be able to see it?” “Ah yes”, she said, “there is that. Oh and by the way, remember how you had to have the phallus*** up at a 45 degree angle after your first operation, well… ”

Yes, it was back to being a rampant stallion again while the stitches healed. This time with the full hydraulics. Then, it was time to find out if i could find the spot without the ‘handy’ blue guide. I did, but one guy, who i was in touch with at the time but have since lost contact with, told me it had taken him three days the first time. You read that right: three days.

I’ve been thinking about these experiences just recently as i’ve been invited by the clinic to take part in an open day for prospective patients. Unexpected comedy notwithstanding, i’m actually very happy with the way the surgery went for me. Some things i’ll always be sad about but as long as i can laugh…

* Alan Partridge was a spoof radio (and later TV) presenter created by the comedian Steve Coogan. I’m Alan Partridge documents Alan’s attempts to get the BBC to commission a second series of his (awful) chat show.
** Female-to-male transsexual (trans man)
*** Nurses and doctors always use the word ‘phallus’, maybe because it sounds more ‘medical’ and therefore less ‘rude’ than the usual name given to this part of the body. And it’s normally always ‘the phallus’ too, rather than ‘your phallus’. Somewhere, deep down, i think the surgeons always think it belongs to them – as its creators, not you.