Tuesday, October 12, 2010

When Harry met Liz

Unknown to me my mother had been writing to Dr. Benjamin beginning in September of 1958 based on her letters to Harry and his responses. I was 12 and she had taken me to Childrens in Boston for tests and a doctor there had given her Dr. Benjamin's name in New York City after the tests resulted in some surprises and several of the physicians that examined me said the condition that caused the condition I was in might best be resolved by him. It had something to do with testosterone levels and estrogen levels and they had been advised by my mother that I said I was a girl and was kind of persistent in my position.

It just might have been nice if someone had bothered to tell me.  What was driving me totally crazy was the thought I would turn into my two brothers because of puberty. I just could not live with the thought of being a guy. It took Dr. Benjamin nearly a year before he could convince my mother to let him meet me. Mom thought there had to be a cure for this silly problem.

A meeting was arranged by my mother with Dr. Benjamin with direct involvement of her childhood girlfriend whom mom had befriended when she moved to US and only spoke French which mom was fluent in already. It was such a critical time in my life and it was the first time I was really allowed to be a girl. It was done over a Christmas vacation and in a clandestine manner to avoid any issues with my maternal grandmother and my mom was not there. If my grandmother had found out in those years she could have used the family political clout to hurt Dr. Benjamin.  My uncle was still a major player in New York politics and I can assure you he thought I was some sort of weirdo freak and a family embarrassment which paled in comparison to him being in the pocket of organized crime in NY but that didn't count when dealing with a fruitcake like me.

I really had no idea why I was in this place at this time since I was totally in the dark about the planned meeting. I had been so upset by the meeting with mom and Mary when this trip was planned that it took them several hours to get me to agree to go. The only reason I went was because they would let me be a girl for the entire time and despite reservations I could not resist being able to just be a girl.

It felt like I didn't have to even think about being me. It was easy and i realized that on the long drive there. The interesting part was everyone immediately accepted me as a young girl and most thought my mom's friend Mary was my mom. Men that if they knew me in Massachusetts would have hurt me smiled at me. It was quite liberating. When we arrived at their Chalet I was very happy with my decision even if it was freaking colder and snowier than Eastern Massachusetts.

We were to attend a dinner on December 27, 1959 where I was to meet Mary's two brothers who were noted physicians. It was a fun evening.  I danced a  little and after a while Mary took me to meet her brothers who had arrived after us and were talking with people across the room. The minute I met them I knew they knew about me but for some reason I didn't feel uncomfortable and we had a short pleasant conversation.

After about 5 minutes she took me to meet some other people and one of them was a sort of curmudgeon with a slight German accent and he totally ignored me and seemed to be looking for someone else as he kept staring at people around the room. I thought he was less than pleasant with me because quite honestly I was a little euphoric with people telling me how nice I looked.  It was a lot more fun than what I received at home.

We had a table and I was back there with Mary's husband Kevin when I saw Mary talking with the man with the German accent and he jerked his head around and started staring at me and I could see him excitedly saying something to her and his eyes never left me. I wasn't dancing with that man was what I thought because he was too short. How quick we can become stuck up with a little praise after a childhood full of scorn.

Mary returned and she sat next to me and she dropped a nuclear bomb basically. She pointed to the man I didn't want to dance with and said he can help you. Help me with what was my first thought? When she told me he can help you be the girl you should have been born it took two of them to keep me there as I bolted from the chair and tried to run to him although my balance in heels would have been problematic since it was the second time I had ever worn heels. Running would not have been an option.

I couldn't take my eyes off him.  Mary said his name is Dr. Harry Benjamin and he is from NYC and he came here to meet you. Why would he come to this winter wasteland to meet me was my initial thought and how could he help me? There was food and I never ate any of it. I kept staring at him across the room and he kept staring at me.

This was a total shock because until this point in my life I thought there was no hope. Maybe a dozen shrinks had told me I was delusional, crazy, and obviously irrational over the nearly 6 years since my 8th birthday. I had been called worse names by doctors than people in general and in fact I learned what fag, drag queen, transvestite, and other names meant by looking them up in the Library at school after shrinks told me I would end up one if I didn't listen to them.

Around 9PM I was taken by Mary to a room reserved for the meeting and waiting for me was this Benjamin person. What I remember most was how kind his voice was as he introduced himself and he barely got his name out and I was in tears begging him to make me a complete girl.  When I get emotional or excited I talk fast and I was rattling questions faster than he could possibly answer them and then he did something he did with every girl I knew that was his patient.

He walked around the table and gave me a hug and told me everything will be OK and then he held my hands to calm me down because I was somewhere between hysterical and emotionally overwhelmed. I wanted to be a girl by tomorrow and I didn't understand why it would take so long. I was disappointed to learn I would not be able to get pregnant. When I asked him about that he smiled a little and shook his head. I really had no clue.

I actually fainted which was kind of embarrassing and when I told him I had not really eaten he went to the door and food arrived shortly since he had not eaten either. He told me I was a transsexual which was the first time I had ever heard that word in my life. As he explained the process I would go through with hormones and then a surgical procedure he must have sensed I was disappointed it would take so long and surgery was out of the question until I was 18 which was 4 years.

I did not understand why it took so long and when he finished explaining why I suddenly realized this doctor was taking a personal risk to meet with me based on the current political climate in the Medical World over people like me. I didn't really understand a lot of it because like most young transsexuals I was more interested in getting what I desperately needed today but no later than tomorrow and the absolute latest I could possibly wait was the day after tomorrow. We transsexuals can be very self-centered and selfish at times when it comes to getting corrected.

He asked my permission to give me a rudimentary physical and commented I would get a more thorough physical in two days which was freaking news to me but if he was going to help me he could poke me, prod me, and examine me every day if he wanted to. I could sense he was a little confused by my body which was not very boy and I had big aureoles more fitting girls breasts and after I was re-dressed he asked when I had started living as a girl.

I said it was yesterday morning and when I got back home next week I had to go back to androgyny which was OK just to have the freedom of being allowed to be me. He was a little worried about that part and didn't think it would be as easy as I thought it would be to  return to the status of "it" as I often called it. I commented that I didn't do boy very well and he basically said it would appear you do girl very well which made me smile.

I was with him for well over three hours and Mary and her family were there for the last 30 minutes or so. He knew I already had a boyfriend which was a big shock and there was not any hint of disapproval. Here I thought up until 3 days ago nobody knew I had a boyfriend and it now seems everyone knows and the only one that didn't know everyone knew was me.

I realized a lot of planning went into this meeting when Mary's Physician brothers talked with Dr. Benjamin about the meeting on Wednesday and  who had accepted the invitation and was flying in. I had this decided feeling I was some kind of freak and when he told everyone to leave so he could talk with me privately I asked him some questions about kids like me and it was then I learned not many kids like me ever made it to him and I was the second or third he had actually met which was a little disconcerting.

We got  back to the Chalet  they owned after 1 AM and I tried to get to sleep but I couldn't. I went into the main living area around 3 AM and got a glass of milk and was sitting there looking at all the snow and the mountains which had this eerie glow from the town creating a scene where a good Science Fiction fan like me fully expected the alien war machines to pop over the hill and destroy my hopes.

I had been hurt by so many doctors I actually was not sure I even trusted this man who said he would help me. I am sure I was crying a little because I was quite good at crying and Mary plopped down on the couch next to me and I expressed my doubts and fears which she knew all about because this is far from the full reason she wanted to help me.

She told me she had something and went to her bedroom and returned with a paper bag and inside were dozens of bottles of estrogen and I think provera and she said Dr. Benjamin and her brothers said these were for me and there was a note explaining what dosage I should take to start a slow change in my body.

So at 3:30 AM on December 28, 1959 I began my long journey to being me. It would take a little over 11 years and because of the times there would be joy, a horrible tragedy that nearly destroyed me, disappointment, delays, and some evil things done to me  in my life but Harry and my mom somehow protected me and helped guide me through events I could never have handled alone. There were times I didn't understand why things had to be as they were and I got frustrated and mad and sometimes very angry but they never once lost their faith in me and I guess they were right.

I need to add that things were a lot more complicated than this but I am not sure I want to open up about it all because it is extremely personal and in many ways very difficult to talk about.



Caroline said...


I was 8 and in the same frame of mind but in a more alien environment.

Already transexualism should have been accepted and mainstream with the medical community had it not been for their bigoted stubbornness not eradicated yet.

This is one of the most fascinating stories I have ever read. What good fortune to have been in just the right place at the right time with a group around you who could give their support.
in a hostile age.

I had forgotten just what anticipation felt like. Keep typing for goodness sake!

Caroline xxx

Veronica said...

It is so fortunate not only that you were introduced to Dr. Benjamin but also that your mother and the rest of your family understood you, back when very few did. It's amazing really.

It's interesting that male-bodied children can sometimes have some degree of somatic feminization along with the lack of virilization of the brain. You seem to have had a lot due to anomalous endocrine levels. Also fortunate! I was lucky enough to have some. Transsexualism is most cruel when the body is very masculine and thus even more out-of-sync with the brain.

Elizabeth said...

Caroline: It seems like another lifetime looking back to my early years. Most of those that cared about me had a lot more courage than I did.

Veronica: In my teens I never looked at the low testosterone and elevated estrogen as a major benefit because I never knew about it. I knew something was different in June of 1959 when mom showed me her picture at 15 and we could have been twins but that was it.

Anonymous said...

I echo the other ladies comments. And add a Wow! to it.

BTW, I have no idea if you are a professional writer or not but you are a very good writer. I look forward to reading more each time I come here.

Thank you,