The day I learned to be okay with my androgyny…

It was November 1st, 2005, and I was driving back to my Fresno home from staying the night in the Bay Area with some of my cosplay friends. We had won Best of Show at YaoiCon that weekend for our Rainbow Links skit.

When really good costume makers phone it in… I’m the pink one.

After the contest, a gay fellow asked why we had picked the “butchest one” to be pink link. Mind you, I was described as the butchest of a group that included a certified momma-bear lesbian, as Goth Link. My voice is kind of low, I guess?

I had spent the previous day (Halloween) dressed as a man to prove a point about cross-play, and how little it takes to visually redefine my gender to the casual observer. (In comparison to some of the more elaborate makeup techniques used by other cosplayers.) I had been telling one of my friends about how often I’d been mistaken for a boy, despite my body shape, the cutesy outfits, and all of the other things I’d tried to accentuate to stop it from happening again. She was incredulous, so for Halloween, I dressed as Tommy Montgomery, from Essex. (Accent and all…)

Now, I need to give you a little history to work with to understand why this was a big deal, and not your typical frat boy in a dress escapade.

In fifth grade, I cut my hair short for the first time. This was 1985, and I’d gone from long pigtails to a close bob. The boys at school were not nice about it, and my friend Sarah cut her long, curly hair short the next week for solidarity.

Despite the snarky remarks, (which were already commonplace by that point, due to my other weirdness…) that was the first year I’d actually liked my school photo. I’d discovered that I looked good with short hair. (I didn’t know enough about aesthetics at the time to understand why, but it was because it made my facial features appear larger and more balanced.)

From that point, I only ever started to grow it out as my self-esteem dropped, and since that was also around the same time my classmates started puberty, and my weirdness was becoming more and more pronounced, I went through a constant cycle of growing it out to appear more feminine, then cutting it back off again in frustration. I quickly learned that it didn’t matter if it was long or short. I just wasn’t attractive, or at least, not attractive enough to overcome my lack of social skill.

By my Junior year of high school, my hair was short again, and I finally had a boyfriend. However, this is when the gender and sexuality issues really hit the fan. I was regularly mistaken for a boy, or if not a boy, a butch lesbian. At the time, I identified as female hetero, so I saw every other label as an insult. (I was seventeen, try not the read too much into it.)

One of my teachers kept me after class one day to try to “counsel” me about coming out as lesbian. Which was super awkward when I had to tell her that I was dating one of her former (male) students who’d already graduated. People assumed that I was gay because my boyfriend was no longer in high school, and I hung out with my female friend who was in exactly the same situation. (In fact, our boyfriends later became roommates.)

In response, I attempted to lean deeper into the feminine, and quickly realized that I had no idea what that even meant. This was now the early 90’s, and women’s fashion during that point was basically tailored men’s clothing (pantsuits and shoulderpads), or teeny-tiny, super tight outfits that I was definitely not going to be able to wear to school.

I opted for column B, and then the next thing happened: My boyfriend made fun of me for trying to be sexy. He said I looked “ridiculous”. (If you’re reading this Matt, yes, that was the exact word you used.) I don’t think he was trying to do it consciously, but my boyfriend discouraged me from presenting as feminine, and encouraged me to dress in boy’s clothing. If I wore his jeans and t shirts, he told me a I looked cute. If I wore a tight velvet dress, he laughed at me. He made me feel like the only way I could be attractive was as a boy, so I boyed it up, and was mis-gendered even more often. Every time it happened, I felt even worse.

This went on for almost fifteen years.

Which brings us back to YaoiCon, and the challenge from my friend. For all of Halloween, I was Tommy. All I had to do was brush my eyebrows the wrong way, comb my hair a little differently, and duct-tape my boobs down. I wore men’s cologne, and opened doors for ladies, and chatted up the various people who came to have themselves drawn at my table. Even though my own books, with my REAL NAME were sitting in front of me, nobody batted an eye.

At one point, one of my fans walked by the table and did a double-take, “Is that Katie Bair?” I had to quickly lean over the table with my finger on my lips, “Shhhh! Ziggy! I’m incognito!” He was the only person to recognize me, and he got the only picture of the weekend:

I blinked…

Probably the best part about that day was when the same fellow who had referred to me as “The Butchest Link”, came by my table to flirt with me… as a man. It was an entirely unintentional reverse-catfish. He was a nice enough guy, but I had no penis to offer.

I had fun being Tommy, although it was very difficult to drop the accent after using it for twelve hours straight. The next day, I drove home, proud of proving my point about gender perception, and stopped by a rest stop to go pee. A homeless man approached, asking for gas money, “Sir, my girlfriend and I are trying to get to Bakersfield, and we’re out of gas. Could you help us out?”

My boobs weren’t taped down. My face and hair were clean. I was wearing jeans, a tank top, and the same loose white shirt. I gave the guy $50, “Yup, no problem. Drive safe!”

I headed into the women’s bathroom, and checked the polished steel mirror. It was just me, just like it always was, and I laughed.

The point is, we can’t control the labels other people give us. As much as we alter the packaging to try to market ourselves as the person we want the world to see, we can’t get too upset if the message isn’t received the same way to everyone. Sometimes we’ll be misgendered. Sometimes people will make assumptions about our sexuality, religion, or political views. The trick is to know who you are on your own terms, and let the truth of that guide you. – K

“So, we had to use a LOT of narcotics…”

I’m a “normal people”. I like to say that around my friends because they’ll nod and pretend to agree in an obviously exaggerated way. It makes me feel a little better about it not being true.

I’ve now been through seven different surgeries that required general anesthesia, and through them, learned that I’m a medical freak of nature. Some of this can be attributed to having a differently wired brain, and some of it is because I am a secret red head.

This is the only evidence of my natural hair color: My “before” picture from 2000.

After this, I bleached my hair for the first time, and never went back. Pink, blue, purple, black, blonde, and now, grey.

I kind of wish I had this picture with me whenever people ask where my son gets his red hair from. “It grows straight out of his scalp.”

I’ve been back from the hospital for a week, and am not in any pain, but still stiff and very aware that part of my neck is missing. I’m not quite ready to actually look at the surgical area yet, but I am ready to talk about how the whole thing went down.

Firstly, I brought up my issues with anesthetic and opiates with practically every medical professional who checked in with me prior to surgery, just to make sure at least one person was warned that there would be issues. Most of them had the general demeanor of “well, we do this all the time”, which was unintentionally dismissive, but considering just how many patients they see, I can understand.

When the anesthesiologist came in to see me pre-surgery, I, again, gave him the warning: “I don’t react normally. It takes a lot to get me under, and I take a long time to wake up. I don’t tolerate narcotics normally. I’ll have panic attacks, nausea, chest pains, difficulty breathing, etc. It’s no bueno.”

I recounted the tale of my C-section, and how the anesthesiologist spent the whole damn time talking about the new house he bought, and zero time paying attention to how I was doing. It was so bad, that, while they were stapling me up, the nurse said to him, “Um, she’s not under.”

He responded, “No, she’s out. I got her full of Demerol.”

To which I piped up, (with a face full of tubes….) “No, I’m not, asshole!”

My most recent anesthesia doc, who was very chill, made a joke about how he’d do better, because he took an online class. Again, I understand that it was his attempt to allay my fears, but it also came off as, “I do this all the time, so there can’t possibly be anything special or different about this time.”

So, fast forward to rolling into the surgery suite. I’ve been in many now, and this was probably the largest. I’m always puzzled by why they make them appear so dark in every fictional setting, because they’re always brighter than noon, and cold as hell. I had an all male team, which I joked presented a perfect opportunity for a boy band, and one of my nurses said he’d always wanted to join a Thriller flashmob but he didn’t know the moves.

They got me up on the table, and started the various strapping in and sensor attachment routine. The blood pressure cuff wouldn’t work the first two times, and so there was a lot of fiddling with that, and then it came time for putting me under.

Now, let me tell you how it’s supposed to go, first.

The doc puts the oxygen mask on my face, with pure O2, which is supposed to make me hyper-oxygenated and dizzy, then he introduces the knock out juice into my IV. There’s a salty taste in my mouth, I count down from ten, or up to five, and off I go.

This is what happened this time.

Oxygen mask is on my face, IV is already flowing. I say, “This thing smells like a CPR dummy.”

Alex, the nurse trying to get my cuff on laughs, and tells the doc. The doc says, “Now, I’m giving her straight oxygen, instead of normal air. It’s missing the carbon dioxide and nitrogen, and it’ll make her feel…”

He’s struggling for the right word, so I offer, “Loopy.”

Doc: “What did she say?”

Alex: “She says loopy.”

Doc: “Yeah, that’s a good word.”

Me: “Just a heads up, I’m not feeling loopy. However, your voices sound like someone is tweaking the audio settings in my ears. You’re kind of tinny, and it’s a bit like you’re underwater.”

The doc, the one who is supposed to be making sure I’m under, is now trying to help the nurse get the blood pressure cuff working, and I’m thinking to myself, “Great, he thinks I’m out, and I’m still awake.” So, I just keep talking, even though I can feel the panic attack coming on.

Me: “Hey, remember me telling you about the other guy talking about his new house? Well, guess what? I’m still awake.”

Alex: “She says she’s still awake.”

Doc: “Um. Just take like five deep breaths.”

Me: “I’m on my twentieth deep breath, and my chest is starting to hurt.”

Doc: “What did she say?”

Alex: “She says her chest is starting to hurt.”

Meanwhile, the panic attack is getting worse, because I’m thinking to myself, “I should be out by now. I can feel that I should be out, but I’m still aware. Shit. What if I can’t tell them I’m still aware through the whole thing?”

Yes, that’s a thing that happens, and this was a three hour surgery, that included a Dremel and my spine.

Thankfully, the doc decided that maybe this wasn’t going to be “just like every other time”, and increased my IV dose. I only found that out post surgery, when the surgeon’s assistant came to talk to me the following day.

“So, we had to use a LOT of narcotics on you. It took way more than normal to get you under, and you kept the anesthesiologist on his toes. You’ve got some sort of bizarre blood chemistry.”

Also, I can now add another painkiller that I can’t take to my list, as the one they prescribed me in recovery traded level 6 neck pain for level 10 chest pains. (Which is much like trading sore muscles for labor contractions.)

However, compared to abdominal surgery, I’m doing much better with regaining some measure of independence fairly quickly. I still can’t look any direction except straight ahead, and sleeping is terrifying, but any surgery you can walk away from (previous ability notwithstanding) is a good one. – K

Other Ramblings…