Editors' Note: Guest blogger Jeff Buppert's work has appeared in Frontiers, Drummer and The Family Business Report, as well as BuzzFlash and on stage at the Powerhouse Theater in Santa Monica; his story on gay adoption will appear in the upcoming anthology series Cup of Comfort, due out this spring.
My aunt celebrated her 66th birthday in January, and this month she is embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime trip: four weeks, all by herself, in beautiful and exotic Thailand.
Aunt Christine lives in a small town in Central Florida and she's been planning this trip for years. Everything is paid for: the airfare, the hotel, the meals, everything. Even the doctor.
Aunt Christine is going to Thailand to become a woman -- physically, a woman -- and you should pardon the pun, but I think my aunt has balls!
At a time when the economy is in the toilet and people are losing their jobs left and right, at an age when most people would tell her to just slap on a dress and some heels and keep living a double life, my aunt is not willing to settle for less than she knows she can be. Nor should she.
Christine's surgery will consist of a penile inversion: the testicles will be removed, the penis will be turned inside out to make a vagina, and the urethra will be redirected so she "can pee like a lady." Partly because of her age and partly because of the cost, she's decided not to get her breasts done, or her Adam's apple shaved. (After three years of hormones she's already a B-cup, and her Adam's apple has never really shown.)
This is not some Beverly Hills matron going away for a quick nip/tuck and coming home a youthful, more beautiful woman. For Aunt Christine beauty is not based on some magazine-inspired confection -- tiny button nose, full Angelina lips, large melon breasts -- but, rather, on the simple fact that she will no longer be a woman trapped in a man's body. That alone will be beautiful.
Christine has two children, four grandchildren, and has been married five times. When I was a kid I saw my uncle (Christine) as a tough guy: a hard drinking, fast living, womanizing, Southern redneck. And while that may have been the man everyone saw on the outside, on the inside, Christine said she always wanted to be a woman.
One of her earliest memories is from the second grade; she checked out a library book and was infatuated by the beautiful long hair...on the men. The book was a history book, and the men were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and the rest of our forefathers. As a ten-year old boy, Christine wondered why s/he couldn't wear two-piece bathing suits like the girls.
I had no idea of the struggles or the demons my uncle was living with. None of us did.
Christine had no one to share her feelings with and it was only after retiring from a lifelong career as a paint salesman, at the ripe old age of 60, that she finally joined a club for cross-dressers -- because that's what she thought she was, a cross-dresser.
The men would put on wigs and makeup and women's clothes, they'd bring their wives and a covered dish, and they'd all get together for a potluck. The group included a retired cop and a former airline pilot, but the guys would sit around talking about hot chicks and the fear of getting an erection under their skirt. That wasn't what Christine was feeling. It was a hobby for those other guys, a fetish, but it was the way Christine wanted to live her life. She identified herself as a woman, not as a cross-dresser.
To her credit Christine sought professional advice, and one day her therapist said something that changed everything.
Christine's mother had had numerous miscarriages and when she was pregnant with Christine had been prescribed DES, a popular drug of the time that helped women carry to term. The therapist said one of the side effects of DES was that testosterone was blocked from reaching the brain. As a result, the brain would think female but the child would be born male.
Whether or not DES was to blame didn't matter, it was a possible explanation. It lifted sixty years of baggage off Christine's shoulders and was the permission she needed to embrace the person -- the woman -- she had always believed herself to be.
When my aunt's once-in-a-lifetime trip is over she will leave a part of herself behind in Thailand, both literally and figuratively, but she will return whole. She will be complete. Perfect. And after 66 years of waiting, the new adventures of Aunt Christine will finally begin.