Escape plan.

In a few weeks I will be back in the land of China. Though they are famous for making everything there is to make, to be completely honest I don’t trust a lot of these products being safe to use. Especially when it comes to pharmaceutical products. So to get around this problem, I take a whole years supply from New Zealand with me.


Today I went pharmacy hopping to collect said supplies. It’s perfectly legal to collect prescriptions your doctor gives you, but you are only allowed one prescription registered at one pharmacy. Drawing on the precision of Google Maps, I planned a circuitous route around the southern part of my city, and settled on visiting three large pharmacies close by, my theory being they would have my rather uncommon drugs available due to their size, and I wouldn’t have to make multiple trips back to collect leftovers. Alas the first pharmacy I visited said ‘please come back tomorrow’ so that threw that plan out the window.


Entering the second pharmacy of the three, I handed in my form, was told to wait around for about fifteen minutes, and turned to gaze over every colourful label I could set my eyes on. Which in a pharmacy is quite a lot. Getting bored of this time wasting activity, I turned to my next favourite social pastime: people watching.


Near the counter we had one woman and her child, both coughing, being directed to the syrup medicine stack and discussing the benefits of each different coloured bottle. Near the pain relief stack, there was a young guy chatting away on his cellphone about the benefits of quitting alcohol, and making sure he procured the right drugs needed to ease his headache so he could take his son to daycare tomorrow (commendable chap indeed). One benefit of living in China, I’ve discovered, is I can now stand at a distance and still tune into conversations not in any close range to me. I directed my ears to the conversation of another couple that sat down about ten feet away from me whenever cellphone guy became out of reach.


Without warning, a slight hush descended from behind me, along with a very tense atmospheric pressure. Another younger guy walked in. His baggy clothes were not able to fully cover what slight skeletal structure he had, nor did his large red bag give any illusion to chest or back size. He asked for some medicine, the specifics were lacking, except they were a meager $5 expenditure. Every pharmacist not already at the front counter had retreated to the back, and gathered like wildebeest do when approached by a lion. He must be known here, I assumed.


One pharmacist however was manning the desk when he entered, and was subsequently first in line for questioning. She would ask him repeatedly for a script, a form, or any piece of paper that showed he could have legal access to this mystery $5 drug. He presented nothing but a growing agitation. Voices escalated to the point of aggression, and everyone else around had physically been put on pause by these noises. No one made a move, myself included. I stood transfixed by the anger, and my own thoughts of self-preservation (what with my imagination running wild). Then, just as quick as the escalation, so was the retreat of ‘red bag man’. I collected my medicine straight after his departure, and walked with a little more caution in my step back to my car. The last words I can recall are from the pharmacist remarking how ‘he’s been doing this more frequently than the last relapse’.


Sitting in the safe metallic bubble of my car, I became very thankful New Zealand has a no guns policy (a very removed thought from the actual circumstance). At this moment though I realised that if he was having a bad day, and we were a country with a lax law saying his access to guns is an important human right, suddenly everyone in the pharmacy could have been having a bad day. I’m not saying there are no guns in New Zealand, far from such a wild declaration. But the fact that my government makes it considerably hard to procure these makes me feel really good about the ‘condition of humanity’ I grew up in.


Addiction I know is a very debilitating state of functioning, and I really wish I could have helped red bag man. Seeing addiction out in the open though, and in such a normal environment like a pharmacy, is something I’m not accustomed towards, and my responses towards it at the time are probably seen as very unhelpful/negative.


So how would you have reacted? Would you have gone to the aid of the pharmacist? Would you have approached him? Or would you have been like me, and done nothing but write about reflected thoughts?







These are my own un-edited, un-counseled, thoughts. I implore you to feel these next few paragraphs not in a sense of pity or sympathy (if such emotions should come to you), but more that I have specifically chosen each word to aid self-understanding and contemplation. There is no remorse, or ‘what-if’ word selected to trigger a negative response on purpose.


I write the below summary to prove to myself that one: you don’t need any physical/emotional-altered sense of sobriety to write how you feel, and two: maybe someone else needs to hear these words.

“When you were born, the doctors didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl”.

I first heard these words when I was in my early-teens, around 13 or 14. At the time, the implication didn’t fully sink in. I thought maybe the physical process of birth (a wonderfully disgusting natural process of blood and baby) had obscured the doctor’s vision for a brief half-second or so, and that this identity crisis happened to everyone.

This wasn’t to be the case.

When I was born the doctor’s had to secure a genetic test from my blood sample, to scientifically determine what x, y or z combination I was. Though I have not seen the paperwork myself, I have been re-assured countless times from these know-it-all doctor’s that the ink on my paper forms the sex defining chromosomal pattern of ‘XX’.

A girl.

So what did it mean to be a girl? Well from growing up through numerous pediatric visits, I learnt being a girl meant your ‘chain didn’t hang low’ from anywhere below, your transitional period to womanhood involved an internal exorcism, and boys would be allowed to ‘complete you’ by filling up ‘that hole’ again and again and again, and you would miraculously enjoy it.

This was all well and good, except I wasn’t actually a girl. Sort of.

When I was born, I was told that even though my blood work said XX, my body said something else. Some parts were missing. These parts would need to be constructed before I could begin ‘chrysalising’ from girl to woman. My first surgery happened when I was very young, so I cannot recall any specific emotions during that period.

What I can recall is that it failed.

Phrases of ‘it didn’t work’ or ‘we’ll have to reconstruct this and this’ infiltrated my growing up phase until I was 14, and finally finished major surgery attempts. I learnt what sex was well before any of my peers. I learnt where things went, what hormones controlled them, and how the circle of life definitely didn’t involve a monkey holding you up over the plains of Africa. I learnt I wasn’t yet built as a normal girl, and it would be hard to commit to a male partner through the vital act of procreation if the ‘under-construction’ sign was left hanging around my neck.

Throughout all of this, there was one teensy internal problem I wrestled around in my head.

To put it frankly, I wasn’t all that attracted to boys.

My thoughts from an early age were always involving women. They weren’t full on sexually graphic thoughts, but rather my dream life felt somewhat better if my partner was a female.

So, here we have one girl growing up being told she is undergoing surgeries to become a woman. Being designed to enjoy her pre-determined heterosexual life (among other more serious health issues that undoubtedly were necessary). My opinion of how I sexually identified myself was never called into question, because we never really think of children being able to understand the different brackets available.

What I was told growing up is ‘the doctor is always right’ and ‘they’re only doing it to make you better’. So if the doctor is always right, maybe once I become a real girl I’d start to like boys? That’s how it’s meant to work right? I mean, since they kept saying ‘you need this to be normal’ and being normal involved ‘boys’ then surely my thoughts were only happening because I wasn’t yet this definition so desired by everybody else. I mean, doctors always know what’s best, don’t they?

Coming out was indescribably hard because of this build up of internal confliction. I finally broke down and expressed my identity to numerous family members and friends, and was indescribably lucky to be welcome with open arms by all. (I understand some people are not so fortunate, and I know how lucky I am to not be in that situation).

I also told my current doctor during this revelation period. Her response was ‘I have another patient similar’.

Wait; there are others like me?

Hold up a minute.

You mean to say that all this time, all of these previous comments about ‘design’ and ‘boys’ were not necessary? I had no right to fault her, as she wasn’t the doctor I had as a child. But she represented every confusing thought I had about myself. And I hated her for it. I hated the doctors of past for ‘deciding’ who I was. I hated the pedestal they had been worshipped on because the medical profession is like playing ‘God’. I hated them for turning me into a mashed up board game of ‘Operation’ and ‘Guess Who’.

Most of all, I hated myself for believing someone else could tell me who I am for so long.

It took a long time to progress from this.

Now I am 22. I just visited my most recent doctor (the same one that triggered the hatred) who discussed (amid the blood tests and steroid dosage adjustments) how I would feel about one more surgery.

The ‘defining’ surgery.

The one where I’d finally be able to remove the sign around my neck.

Now, at 22, I finally get to choose who I am.

And I said ‘ok, let’s look into it’.

Because, at last, I know that the doctor isn’t always right.

But I know that they don’t always know what’s wrong either. Their job is simply to offer the choices at hand.

I now understand that my particular condition is relatively new, and that during the period in which I was born a lot of doctors had to experiment on people (such as myself) because there was no data to help them. I was an experiment, and my emotional outcome is being documented to help the next batch of doctors figure out the best outcome. I might not enjoy thinking about the past, but I know the present ‘me’ can be fixed.

I also know that even if this final surgery is performed, I will not be a girl.

I will be a writer, a stay-awake-all-nighter, a lead foot driver, a can’t-cook-for-shit-foodie, a kinda photographer, a joker, a tomboy, a blue jean femme, a sarcastically challenged individual, and a myriad of other labels that I can’t possibly spend all day writing out.

I am so much more than an x, y or z. And, if I ever have children, this is what I will teach them too.