By Lisa P.
For the past few weeks, I have discovered a hard truth, and it has got me thinking. Perhaps it will get you thinking too.
No, I am not talking about the fact that dysphoria can make a person uncomfortable in their own body. If that is you, it must cause you terrible distress. I feel lucky in that my male body is just a whole lot less desirable to me. In other words, it is not that the body is terrible – it just isn’t the body I was meant to have and so I would much prefer a female body type (at least in terms of the parts that define sexuality), although not to the point of losing the most important person in my life or the ability to be intimate with her in the way she needs.
That isn’t the hard truth I need to address. This one is equally hard (for me, even harder).
Because my toenails were unsightly due to a toenail fungus, and I was hoping to have nicely painted nails to display during the warm summer months, I went to my doctor and asked for a medication called terbinafine (it is better known by its brand name of Lamisil). It is an anti-fungal pill. My wife took it and within two months her affected nail was almost completely clear and she was able to return to getting pedicures. It is important to have that premise in mind. I took that drug primarily because I wanted to look my best in a dress with open-toed shoes. There was no medical necessity. In my defense, none of my wife, my doctor or me knew that it could be toxic to my system, but there you have it. They say “pride goeth before the fall…”
Within a couple of weeks of starting the medication I began to break out across my chest and arms. Raised “bites” then morphed into something that looked like a Pacific atoll, with deep red in the circular portion. Each atoll then morphed into a huge patch or “red tide” of inflamed skin, and it finished with a big “skin kill” of crusting and flaking flesh. Dotted all around were “plaques” or raised areas of painful skin. Almost my entire body either itched or hurt like hell. If you have ever had psoriasis or eczema (I had not), you will recognize the symptoms of an extremely severe case of dermatitis. After a failed attempt to get effective treatment from a GP, and living through two weeks of hell, I finally got into my dermatologist, who diagnosed a drug-induced dermatitis that has the characteristics of eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions all rolled into one.
Unfortunately, even after you stop an offending drug, your body’s defense mechanism continues to attack your body, so I have remained in hell for over a month now (as I write this). At times it has been so painful I cannot comfortably work, sit or sleep) — three essentials of life. Eventually, my skin decided it was fed up and I got edema (swelling) in both calves and ankles. They grew to more than twice their normal size for an entire week. I could not walk without pain. Even when the swelling reduced, the only “shoes” I could wear were my male sandals. My legs looked like an elephant’s legs, but with none of that animal’s accompanying stature(!). Eventually (although thankfully it has stopped now), those swollen calves and ankles started to drip (yes, you heard that correctly) fluid. I learned it is called a “weeping edema.” You can’t make this stuff up. A sad truth of all auto-immune diseases is that there are few things worse than having the body attack itself in what feels like a slow suicide. Many times over the past month I compared myself to the man Job, hero of the Hebrew Bible book by the same name. “Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” (Job 2:7). When faced with this type of suffering, one definitely is tempted to curse the day one was born.
All hope has not been lost, I can assure you. I have regained my optimism as I am now on an immuno-suppressant drug as well as several other new drugs. The immuno-suppressant drug makes me more vulnerable to infections (please remember that when you wear a mask you are doing to protect people like me who are immuno-compromised, not to protect yourself, so a little thoughtfulness in a closed indoor space would be much appreciated), but that is a fair trade-off for me.
Back to my hard truth. I haven’t been able to be Lisa (except in writing) for an entire month. No book club, no dance lessons, no outings to buy groceries or shop. I have been in so much pain I haven’t really cared. Frankly, I don’t feel like any gender. I sense that I am an animal that must focus its attention on figuring out how to eat, move and sleep. As I am already in my mid-60’s, and each minute I get older(!), I am starting to think that my thoughts about spending a significant (or even majority) of my later years as Lisa are unrealistic. I am going to get older and have continuing, new health issues regardless of which gender I present There will be more times to come when I just don’t care what I wear and how people perceive my gender or what name I use. All I will care about is getting help — any help — for whatever ails me. Moreover, one of the abiding features of all this is that my plumbing still works, which has been so comforting. I can’t imagine taking any risks with changing that, given how important that factor has been during this particular health crisis.
So, there you have it. Many of us arrive at this point in our lives determined to break the shackles of transphobia and personal acceptance of ourselves. Instead, we may find that we deal with new chains caused by our pain and suffering. It is the way of all flesh.
That might not be a happy thought. Yet, when a truth becomes apparent to me, I need to speak it.
With that truth in mind, I am determined both to refuse to feel less of myself when I can’t be Lisa and to accept that feeling as physically whole as possible is more important than any gender. Mind you, I am not rejecting myself, or putting away my hopes/dreams to be Lisa, but I am looking at her role in/as my life in a whole new light. In the meantime, my wish for you is that you never feel uncomfortable in your own body, regardless of your gender at any moment in time.
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I feel so badly for you because of your recent most painful physical problem.
I pray that you get fully healthy soon.
Whatever our physical health issues, our mind knows who we really are. Despite everything you are still beautiful Lisa.
Lisa, I’m so sorry to hear this. I can’t even begin to imagine what you’ve been going through but it sounds pretty horrific.
For me, your post was a timely reminder, as far as my own situation is concerned, to cherish what I have, not lament what I don’t. I have spent the last couple of months wondering what I’ll do when I no longer have the luxury of an empty house five days a week. The answer is obvious, I’ll have to confront the issue head on because it is within my gift to do so. Of course, we’ve been dealt challenging hands having to deal with the trans thingy but your post underlines that it’s not nearly as challenging a hand as having to deal with a health issue completely outside your control.
I wasn’t around when religious beliefs were being handed out but I know enough to realise that if anything’s going to pull you through this, it’s your faith & your family. I also know that when you hit rock bottom, the only way is up and I hope that you are soon flying high once more.
For now, though, my thoughts are with you and get well soon, my dear friend.
I very much appreciate your comment, not only for the good wishes, but also because you so clearly understand where I was coming from while in the depths of my health crisis. That health crisis was indeed much more challenging than dealing with being a transgender woman. But, the light shines bright whenever I look in the mirror and see Lisa again (as I can do now), and I mustn’t forget that truth either!
I appreciate your kind thoughts. I wrote this before it happened, but I got COVID too. But, no need to cry or pray for me now, as I am more than 90% healed, and the COVID is resolved too. The body is capable of attacking and defending too! But, as you say, I am still Lisa, even when I feel genderless.
The whole situation must have been so frustrating when the whole situation kicked of by wanting to have pretty toe nails . You must have reached the point when you didn’t know what drug what fighting what ? I know from experience that when you get a skin problem it can go on for so long , I had a long term problem because of the chemicals I used in my colour darkroom , my hands would be covered in blotches which then formed blisters . Once you have a problem other agencies can start it all again because the skin is more vulnerable .
OK admission time I’m now 71 , I try not to worry about my age but my greatest fear is having to resort to drab mode if I can’t sustain being Teresa , I hope I take after my mother who is 94 and fit as a fiddle .
I bet you will take after your mother. Mine passed at 83. Maybe that makes me limit Lisa’s potential life more than ought. Sorry to hear about your “darkroom hands”. Did they get resolved. I am happy to say Lisa is back on her feet and out the door again.
My hands recovered after I retired from photography , it left a weakness in the skin but then I could blame old age for that as I can the arthritis now .
It’s good to hear you’re recovering well now .