Sequel 2: A third year retrospective
Leandra Vicci, 10 March 2002

I have been remiss in not providing updates to my web site.  The truth is, for the most part my focus has been on living my life and not on things transgendered.  I understand that for those who have found it worthwhile to visit this site, my lack of follow-up makes for an ambiguous picture, leaving my progress entirely to one's imagination, ranging from fabulous to disastrous.  Naturally the truth is somewhere in between, but much closer to fab than bad.

In September 1999 I wrote,
"It is no exaggeration to say I have never been more relaxed and happy with myself before in my entire life; a life I now enjoy in ways never before possible.  Is this merely a flash-in-the-pan? I don't think so. But of course, only time will tell..."

Well, I'm here to assure you it wasn't.  The improvement in my emotional well being has persisted, and I can unequivocally say that my quality of life and my satisfaction with it have benefited commensurately.  That is not to say there's no down side to living life as a female -- any woman could tell you that.  But there is no question in my mind at this point that my decision to transition was the right thing to do.  Notwithstanding the associated effort, expense, and physical trauma.

In May of 2000 Dr. Toby Meltzer of Portland Oregon performed an SRS (sexual reassignment surgery) operation on me, consisting of an orchiectomy (castration) and vaginoplasty by penile inversion.  At the end of the year, this was followed by a labiaplasty procedure which nicely completed my genital reconstruction.  All very professional, matter-of-fact, and free of any lurid overtones about which apparently some people fantasize.  In the summer of 2001 I also indulged in some cosmetic plastic surgery including liposuction and breast augmentation.  Costly?  Yes.  Painful?  To be sure.  And I'm still finishing up the electrolysis I'd started three years ago (both painful and costly).

However the net result is a physical conformation congruent with my internal identity, a low stress condition I find particularly comfortable.  I have been asked,  "why does it matter to an old woman like you who is not even looking for a date?"  All I can say is, it's about a state of mind.  It's not about sex.  If I had transitioned 30, or even 20 years ago, sex could very well have been a factor.  But my relationship with my partner Ina of 30+ years had already matured to a stage of  profound love, no longer dependent on sexual drive.  No, it's about gender identity and self image.  Either you get it or you don't. There's no rational explanation.

This whole process has been an emotional maelstrom in Ina's life.  By her account, she has experienced the death of a husband, and all the uncertainties of learning to love and to live with a female partner.  Feelings of grief, abandonment, anger, and sorrow; fear and anxiety about her future, all took their toll.  However she has weathered it and survived, albeit a different but perhaps even stronger person.  Healing is not yet complete, but the worst of it is over.  In fact, in any relationship there will perpetually be some problems, and I think we are approaching that stage of our rebuilt relationship.

If I could offer any advice at all about survival of a relationship through transition it would be, it is only possible if both sides are truly committed.  The relationship will be severely stressed, and strained to its limit.  It will not work if either one claims exclusivity to victimage.  Each must compassionately recognize the other's plight and nurture the other; and also accept any genuinely offered reciprocation.  All too often, one or both are unwilling or unable to do this, and it seems far more usual for the relationship to break up.  Fortunately, ours has not.

My sister and brother in law have accommodated to the change with little apparent difficulty.  Other than occasional "pronoun lapses," which have become increasingly infrequent, it's as if I'd always been Lea (except in those nostalgic childhood reminiscences in which aging siblings are prone to indulge).  My weekly visits with them have become, if anything, even more congenial than before.  Similarly with my niece, whose two young boys know me as Auntie Lea, and it's doubtful if either remembers me otherwise.  I fancy it helps a lot that they live close by so I can visit regularly, and thereby present a tangible reality to them rather than an abstract, far away sibling that has "changed" somehow.

On the other hand, I don't think my brother has ever really become comfortable with it.  Not that we don't still love each other, nor does he treat me with anything but kindness and respect.  But there's something about how it feels that just isn't the same as it used to be.  And we implicitly understand this is not something he likes to discuss, so I just leave it at that.  Again, part of it may be that he does not live nearby so I rarely get to see him in person.  His wife I think has never accepted my transition.  To the best of my knowledge, she refused even to read my coming out document, but had independently decided I was making a horrendous mistake fraught with dire consequences, which I would regret, but only when it was too late.  I have no idea whether she still thinks so, as she apparently has no desire to communicate, and I certainly have no desire to get in her face about it.

The rest of my extended family has apparently accepted this without much of a stir.  In September of 2000 we had a family reunion in Madrid, Iowa to celebrate the 90th birthday of uncle Max Exner, the last surviving of his generation of Exners.  It was at a 4H camp with barracks like accommodations -- not the most private in the world!  Without exception, I was warmly welcomed as Lea, by men and women alike, across four generations, from many walks of life and of differing religious beliefs.  No problem.  It was a wonderful and uplifting experience.  I was particularly inspired by Eileen, Max's wife, who at her age still exuded the vitality and exuberance that make life a joy; and who also took a shine to me that I shall forever cherish.

Now about my neighbors: understand that I live in the middle of Chatham County a very rural farm community far removed from the culture of the University in Chapel Hill.  This is a community of good old boys, mostly populated by established old line farm families, with a relatively few citified newbies sprinkled in.  Contrary to common expectation about Southern rural bible belt culture, I have had absolutely no unpleasant experiences.  None.  And it's not like my transition is a secret around here.

Just last week I heard the following anecdote regarding a Raleigh lawyer who owned acreage next to ours and who used to spend weekends gardening out here (he recently died of cancer, rest his soul).  Last year when he was out, I stopped by and introduced my new self to him, which at face value seemed not to faze him.  Apparently however, it actually did bother him and he talked to one of the good old farm boys about it.  It was the farmer who set the lawyer straight on this one.  The farmer said, "Whatever makes Lea happy, if it ain't hurtin' anyone, it's OK."  So much for the bigoted red-neck stereotype!

Now don't get me wrong.  I don't believe for a minute that there aren't some out there who disapprove.  What's important is that the community on the whole accepts it; if it didn't I surely would know by now.  And it accepts it broadly and deeply enough that those who might contemplate a hate crime have not found sufficient support to carry it forward.  This gives me a renewed respect for our culture and pride in America.  I can't even begin to imagine how nasty it could be for me in, say, Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, back at the University, life has settled into a comfortable routine, almost as if nothing had ever happened.  It's like I'd always been Lea, and the topic of transition rarely comes up.  Very rarely.  At first, I think there may have been some reservations as to whether my abilities to do science and engineering would be affected.  But the technical problems on which I work were, as always, sufficiently fascinating and challenging that they absorbed virtually all of my attention and energy, and the corresponding results have effectively dispelled any doubts.

One was the design of an experimental prototype magnetic manipulation system for the probe of a 3D atomic force microscope, which was built last year and is now in daily experimental use.  Along the way, I discovered and experimentally verified a novel concept I call Magnetic Flux Conduits, for which I have filed an application for a US patent.  I have also filed an application for an international patent on Reactive Compensation of Magnetic Loops, and have been issued a US patent for a device I call Auto 911, an invention intended to summon timely help for potential rape victims and other people in emergency situations.

On the theoretical side I have written two technical reports, one a tutorial on representing physical rotations with mathematical quaternions, and another which is a new contribution on the mathematical averaging of arbitrary 3D rotations and orientations.  I have also made substantial progress in a method for calculating the scattering of light in a high numerical aperture focused laser beam from a spherical bead, another problem associated with the 3D force microscope.

I apologize if this is all gobbledygook to you, but I have always been and probably always will be your quintessential scientific/engineering geek.  It's in my blood, and I love doing this stuff, gender notwithstanding.  As you might surmise, all this technical monkey business over the last two years has taken a lot of my time.  In fact it has taken the lion's share of it.  Nevertheless, I do find time to enjoy the arts and life on the farm.

In summary, life is good.  It's the way it should have been all along.  In almost all quantifiable ways, it's not much different than it was before.  But emotionally (which I find it difficult to quantify), there's a world of difference.  A lifetime of anxious tension has been replaced by a feeling of comfortable ease.  Has the cost of transition been worth it?  For me, there is no question the answer is a resounding yes!

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Copyright © 10 March 2002, Leandra Vicci