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Conquering My Inhibitions

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
you were only waiting for this moment to arise.
The Beatles

We all knew our places. I was stage left, holding my arms in a diagonal as I waited for the tempo of the music to change. Dance had become such a big part of my life. Four nights out of the week and sometimes on Saturday morning, I took classes in jazz, tap, ballet, contemporary, and hip-hop. Not that I was any good at it, as I was likely the slowest learner and most awkward student in the school, but there was something about dance that intoxicated me and I was determined to persevere.

Dance is an art, an expression of our individual sense of beauty. It has geometric form and must look free flowing. To
become entranced in the dance, breathe in its essence, and attempt to let go of all my inhibitions often put me in a quandary. I worried that I might accidentally project some part of me that’s male. Dear me, why on earth should that matter?

In order to be a good dancer, you need to know how to count dance steps. I, who had survived calculus and organic chemistry in college, and who had survived the rigors of medical school, could not for the life of me sometimes memorize eight simple steps in a sequence. What part of my brain did I need to use to make this happen?

Samantha was an excellent dancer and teacher. She was vibrant, alive. I envied the way she moved across the dance floor with such fluidity that her dance appeared effortless. Whenever I tried to go to a place in my head where the same music might play, I could never quite find it.

I knew that I would never be anything more than a level one dancer, but that was okay. I was happy to be accepted by the other girls and to share in the experience with them.

Regardless of my ineptitude, I wondered how differently my life might be had I not discovered dance. It had become such a big part of my existence. I was fascinated by it, but what made it so special? I never thought of dance when I was younger.

I can no longer recall the first time I entered the dance studio or how I found the school. Maybe it was an ad I saw in the newspaper, or maybe I searched the yellow pages. I’m not sure any more. Most of the girls were teenagers, but there was a group of adults that came to class regularly, too. The first class I ever took was jazz, but soon after, I started taking tap and ballet. It was such a joy for me to be there.

I remember going to buy ballet shoes for the first time and finding that the straps weren't attached. I thought they were defective. I asked the saleslady if she'd take them back and give me a new pair.

She responded, "No dear, you have to sew them on yourself."

"Really?" I was dumbfounded, "you have to sew them on yourself? Do all ballet slippers come like that?"

She must have thought me incredibly naive as it took her a moment to formulate a reply.

“It’s because everyone’s foot is a little different. Would you like me to show how to do it?”

I nodded in the affirmative, looking at her somewhat timidly.

“You should put the shoe on first.…yes, that's right. Now one side of the ribbon goes here,” she said, pointing to my mid-foot. “You now stretch it across and attach it on the other side. It’s important that you don't sew along here.” She pointed to where the purse string ran. “That’s it. You do the other strap the same way and you’re done.”

I know it sounds silly, but I often feel special learning something that only women are generally interested in. I love being a girl. I can't help but think how fortunate I am. In a world where sex is so binary, and people expect you to be either male or female with no in between, it is gratifying to know that I pass well enough that I can do most anything I want to.

Not once in any of my classes did anyone question my gender. I'm sure some people knew my history but no one asked me about it. I was glad, because I didn't want the focus to be on me. I’m sure if I was still a guy and taking ballet, people would have wondered if I was gay. I suppose I shouldn't care about such things as that anymore, but I grew up in time when people ostracized you for being gay, lesbian, or transgendered. During my youth, the people in my small town weren't even aware of the concept of gender diversity. People like that were freaks and didn't deserve to live.

My fears of dancing were tempered by the fact that Samantha was a professional. She was not one to easily get upset with any of her students, especially if she felt you were trying. She had the patience of a saint. If she did criticize you, it was because she felt you had the ability to be better and you weren't performing to your potential.

"Okay, girls, I want you all to move to center stage. Tonight we are going to try something different," she exclaimed as she half-winked with a little twinkle in her eye.

Oh no. We all knew what that meant. We were going to have to do something designed to help us lessen our inhibitions. I took contemporary dance class with her in part because I knew this was part of her routine.

"I want you all to lie on the floor. We’re going to do something I like to call mac and cheese
.

She dimmed the lights and turned the music on from her iPod. A soft African drum played in the background as we spread out across the dance floor. Once we were all comfortable and in position, she began guiding us through the dance.

"Now I want you to just move your fingers.”

“Now your toes”

“Next your head.”

“Now your pelvis.”

“Now move your arms....and next move your legs."

By this point, we were all slithering to and fro along the dance floor.

"OK, now glide over to the person next you.”

"Yikes! Here it comes. She's going to ask us to do something that could be embarrassing," I said to myself.

"Now I just want you to melt into the person you're with. Imagine them as the most comfortable couch you've ever laid on."

Oh my God! I closed my eyes and tried to relax. I knew my partner was feeling the same anxiety that I was. "It’s OK, Jessica, just let yourself go," I told myself. Part of me was scared to death, and the other part was feeling overwhelming joy for accepting the challenge.

How had I gotten to this point? What a journey I had been on. Whenever I took the time to try to analyze my situation, I found it difficult to fathom how I ever got from point A to point B.

Letting go of inhibitions has been a big part of my existence. In the beginning, when I was a pre-teenager, what started as simple cross-dressing gradually became more encompassing. As time went on, I wanted more. I wanted a woman's body, and I wanted to know what it felt like to be a woman. Although I have a good imagination, I wanted the experience to be real.

Painting my toenails, wearing women’s undergarments, shaving my legs, getting tattooed with fairies and butterflies, taking hormones, pursuing permanent hair removal with laser and electrolysis, and eventually having gender reassignment surgery, were all progressively more daring things that I did as I got older to satisfy my sexual being. It was as if I was always pushing the envelope. Opening up to Dr. Gransby and finding Dr. Braunwald were landmark events in my life, and what happened to me after meeting them was truly a metamorphosis.

In some ways, surgery was not an end result for me but rather a new beginning. I've always felt heterosexual, and after surgery I started dating men because it didn't seem right dating a same-sex partner anymore. The first time I kissed a man felt very strange, but I kept telling myself, "It's OK, Jessica. You're a girl , and this is acceptable behavior." Needless to say, I had a similar dialogue with myself the first time I stood at a ballet bar. If only I could have found my passion forty years earlier.

I don't believe I became a woman simply to have a male sexual partner. I could have done that without surgery. Female gender identity and gender role were just as important to me.

My dating experiences likely parallel those of a biological woman. It felt awkward at first, and I wasn't sure how to play my part. I often felt insecure and hopelessly afraid that my life would end before I'd find an endearing mate, but then I met Calvin and everything changed. He knew of my background but wasn't afraid of intimacy with me. He helped me solve the mystery that had been elusive to my female self. What I experienced with him was passion. I liked his scent. In his arms, I explored every muscle of his body and when he kissed me, I closed my eyes and found ways to communicate with him without words. After a while, I knew his rhythm, his touch, the way he tasted, the strength of his back, and the ruggedness of his face. I knew when he needed a break from me, and I knew when he was thinking of me. I felt protected when I was with him. With his help, I learned how to experience love as a woman, and I unravelled its mystery. The hermaphroditic earthworm was one of the few creatures on earth that could relate to my experience. How crazy is that?

As a man, I had experienced these same feelings with Madge many years ago. I now knew something that was rare and that very few people in this world would ever be privileged to know. I had been loved both as a man and a woman. I had eaten from the apple in Eden.

The desires of men and women aren’t really that different. I believe sexual eroticism is in part a learned response. Visual imagery of a pleasurable moment contributes to our desire to repeat the event. Since I knew from my previous life what sexual pleasure felt like, it was just a matter of time and experience before I could reproduce that feeling again, although the connections in my brain had to be relearned in a sense.

As I lay propped across my dance partner's midsection, I thought about all the good things that had happened in my life. The African drum was still playing in the background, and I was feeling quite pleased with myself. Like the butterfly inked to my chest, I was free now to be whoever I wanted to be.


My book is available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Createspace.com. A Kindle version is also available. I decided to author it under a pen name. I hope those who read it will enjoy it. Illustrations for the book were kindly provided by Evoryan Zafir, photography by Clint Sloper, and introductory comment by Christine Becker LICSW.

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