November 27th, 2003


Things are still going very well with Deb. The doctor is ecstatic with her recovery so far. She is healing quickly and has had very little swelling compared to many. She required fairly little in the way of narcotics immediately after surgery. She does have a ton of sensation, but relatively little actual pain. She gets the packing taken out this morning and she gets to come back to the hotel tonight.

There are TS patients here from all over the world and we are all meeting tonight to have Chinese duck for Thanksgiving with them. They all have so much perspective on exactly what they have to be thankful for. I enjoy listening to their stories. One has told us of the 30 years she lost to alcoholism rather than deal with what she needed to do for herself in terms of transitioning. All have a story to tell to people willing to listen.

Many have realized that they waited too long to have everything done they want to have surgically altered. Between the high rate of alcoholism in US TS patients before the transition and the additional surgical risks of increased age and cigarette smoking, etc., some have had to give up on the facial work and other things they have wanted so much to help them with the ridicule they get in their day to day lives. It is sad in a way, but also strengthening to them. The reality is that many of them may never have a boyfriend and may have cruelty thrown at them every day of the rest of their lives, but they understand it is better to be a peace with themselves than the rest of the world.

They are an interesting bunch. They share a great deal of pain and something I would call bravery, though each will tell you that it is not bravery to acknowledge that you do not have the courage to kill yourself and thus, instead, you have to attempt to begin to deal with the dissonance between body and mind, or spend the rest of your life in a drug induced haze. To me, the fact that they chose coming to terms with it over various forms of escape takes bravery.

It is also clear that many of the American transsexuals have things much harder culturally than do those around the world. Those from Spain and France and England, while, not having it easy exactly, do not face the same sort of emotional torture that some of the Americans have experienced by the extremely religious usually. By far the oriental TS patients have had the least cultural pain to manage.

Here in Thailand most TSs are identified by the time they are 5 years old. They usually transition by age 8 and are offered sex reassignment surgery during the beginning of puberty before the hormones have had a chance to create dramatic changes but after they achieve basically full adult sizes. It is just a medical problem here like nearsightedness or flat footedness. Correction is done and understanding is offered without the drama those from the US experience. I am sure there are some people who are cruel to them here as with anywhere else, but there is not the “freak” stigma culturally there is in the US.

Deb actually just came into the hotel room from the hospital. She looks good and feels pretty good at this point aside from being tired easily. She is healing well and was able to go pee after they took the catheter out, which meant that they didn’t have to reinsert it for a few more days.

Shopping has been fascinating here. Many of the shop owners do not speak much if any English, so they come up with creative ways to explain prices, etc. They will pull out a calculator to show you the number rather than try to say “fifty” or what have you. Most of these shop owners do not make that much per day even in local currency. Due to buying a few gifts for people, I have spent as much as 1000 Baht in one store and it is clear that that is an extraordinary amount to make in one day for these people. In the US, that is slightly less than $35. They remember you and give you freebies and nearly glow at seeing you return to their shop another day because that is so unusual for them. They want to show you their finest and beam with pride at their work which they clearly don’t have tremendous opportunity to show off to real potential buyers since it is so expensive to the natives.

Everywhere that you go here, there are street carts with people cooking and makeshift restaurants set out on the sidewalk nearby. Many will have poultry sitting out in the sun raw, unrefrigerated for many hours. And I am yet to see an egg refrigerated, even in the copious 7-eleven stores. Many US brands have products here, but often somewhat different than what they sell in the US. Kit Kat bars are popular, but I am yet to see one in normal milk chocolate instead of white chocolate. Nestle sells everything from baby products to water to food and a little of nearly everything that you would never see on most shelves in the US. Sodas are popular and as often as not, sold in glass bottles. The natives save the bottles and take them back to wherever they buy them, so if you want a drink to go and the can is not available, they give you your soda in a small plastic bag with ice and a straw. Children can be seen walking home with these treats from school.

Uniforms are really popular here. Nearly everyone working for a big company of any kind has a uniform. The nurses even have the tiny traditional hats held on with bobbie pins like you would see in a vintage photograph of a nurse from the 50s in the US. In many ways this city reminds me of an industrial city in the US from the 40s and 50s in the US. The people generally do not buy gadgets when they can get by without them, with the exception of cell phones which are a clear hit here even more than in the US, probably because retrofitting access to telecommunications is so expensive and they are only now putting in anything like modern sewer lines in many parts of the city. On entire floor of the “mall” nearby is cell phones and cell phone accessories. But you see the lack of gadgets in all sorts of strange places.

Medical equipment, for example. The operating room is very modern, but they take your temperature the old fashioned oral way with a mercury thermometer that must be shaken beforehand. Only in a hospital would you find a hand held shower head. Only in a 4 star hotel do you get devices to keep food any particular temperature generally. In the US elevators are almost always air conditioned, but that is not true here, even though they are Otis and Toshiba elevators, for example. The technology they do have is often geared toward saving money or other precious resources. The bathroom sinks in a 4 star hotel are fed from a different water line than the showers and just marked unsafe for drinking from the sink faucet. The room comes equipped with a little card slot where you put your card room key once you return to the room and it turns on power to the room and air conditioning that they do not want to pay for if you are not in the room to use it.

Many of the natives and there extensive families live in what would be comparable to a one car garage in Manhattan with some large company using the space above the first floor. Families are clearly very important to the natives. If they speak English, they always ask if you have children or plan to have children, and it is very common to see groups of three or sometimes four generations of people all happily interacting together, living together and remaining close where American youngsters would have found apartments long ago. Some of this is probably economically driven, but there is also a clear focus on having babies. Many of the most modern of the tiny shops house stores full of infant products and most groups of women will have at least one baby in tow and often a gaggle of toddlers nearby.

Anyway, those are recent impressions of things here in Thailand. Enjoy. Hope all is well for all of you back in the states with our lunatic president in charge.