I had booked two nights at the hotel, not knowing what might be required at my first consultation, so rather than waste the money, I spent the rest of the day walking around the city. It seemed so big compared to Rocky, and there and then I decided that if I was going to have regular consultations with Dr Brentwell, I would move to Brisbane. There was another reason too. In our small local community I frequently ran into Mrs Shore, Toms mother, and these meetings were somewhat awkward. I would ask how she was and she would do likewise, and then I would ask after Tom and she would say he was well. I would ask to be remembered to him and she said he asked to be remembered to me. Then we would part and I would find myself with tears in my eyes, knowing that the passing of time had made no difference to my feelings for him, not matter how much I tried to convince myself that Tom was in my past and I should forget about him.
When I reached home, I told my mother and sisters what had happened and how I was confident that the test results would mean I could start hormone treatment. I didn't yet tell them of my decision to move to Brisbane, I would leave that until after my second consultation and its hopefully positive news. In truth I didn't feel as confident as I made out, and was afraid that all my hopes might be dashed.
Two long weeks later I was in Dr Brentwell's office, my heart beating wildly as I waited to hear his news.
“I won't keep you in suspense Miss Collins, all your results are good, and as a result I am happy to refer you to an endocrinologist and you can start your hormone treatment.” My face broke out into a wide smile as I heaved a sigh of relief. Dr Brentwell smiled too.
“I thought that would please you.” he said. “You can chose your own specialist of course, but I often refer my patients to Dr Hall who has rooms in this building. Would you like to see him or have you someone else in mind?”
“I'd be happy to see Dr Hall if he comes with your recommendation.” I replied.
“Good.” he said. “I have made an appointment for you to see him in thirty minutes. I imagine you would like to start your treatment as soon as possible?”
I laughed. Suddenly I felt relaxed for the first time. “Yes indeed!” I said.
“You will of course have to see me on a regular basis. I need to know about your response to the hormones. Don't forget that there is no shame if you ever decide that this is not for you. Dr Hall will explain about the side effects you can expect, and I will want to hear how you cope with them.”
During my visits to Dr Brentwell, I half expected to see the lady who had been so kind on my first visit, but I never did see her again there. I suspected that was by design.
Dr Hall was a charming man in his sixties at a guess. I was shown into his consulting room with only a few minutes waiting, and he explained the treatment that I would be having – a hormone called Oestradiol. Taking this would cause my testosterone to fall to the very low level found in females (I was surprised to learn that women had any at all). He already had my pre-treatment level and would monitor me with a blood test every month to see how the level of testosterone was falling.
“There are a few things you should be aware of.” he continued. “The effect on your body is like that of a young girl entering puberty. You may have mood swings, you will find your skin softening, there will be a redistribution of body fat and your breasts will start to grow naturally, so eventually you may wish to stop using the breast forms. One bonus is that oestrogen protects against heart disease, which is why women on average live longer than men.”
“Wow!” I said, “I never knew that was the reason.”
Dr Hall smiled and wrote me out a script for the hormone. There was a pharmacy in the medical centre, which must have done good business with all the doctors there, and soon I had my first box of Oestradiol safely in my handbag. Taking the tablet for the first time that evening felt like a new chapter opening in my life.
When I arrived home I told my mother and sisters my good news and then followed it up with the announcement that I intended to move to Brisbane – 'for a new start'. Mum was a bit upset although I assured her that I would return to visit quite often. I think she understood that I needed to get away from the old surroundings and start my new life.
In those days there was plenty of work, so I had no hesitation in handing in my notice. They wished me good luck and gave me a glowing reference and the chief clerk promised to back it up if there were any telephone enquiries from a prospective employer. A week later I was on my way back to Brisbane. I found a room in a hostel for single women and set about looking for a job. I looked in the Courier Mail and there were several advertisements for typist/clerks in legal practices. I telephoned one and made an appointment for the following morning.
I dressed carefully in a black pencil skirt, white silk blouse, stockings and 4 inch heels, hoping I looked the picture of a legal secretary. Baker, Thompson and Brown had their offices in one of the city's older buildings in the legal precinct. It looked very prestigious. A young woman led me to the office of the Chief Clerk in charge of the typing pool, Miss Evans, a lady in her late fifties at a guess, very smartly dressed. She glanced through my reference and then asked me about my experience and typing skills. She seemed satisfied with my answers and said that she would be willing to give me a month's trial, and if I proved satisfactory, then I could have a permanent position.
I started there the following day. There were four other typists, all married, and they were very friendly. Apparently they had been short-staffed for some weeks after one girl had left suddenly, so they were very pleased to have someone to share the load, and quite a load it was. I was surprised just how much work we had to get through. I had to get used to typing on an electric typewriter since I'd only use manual ones previously, but I soon adapted to it and my speed increased as a result. Miss Evans seemed very pleased with my progress and I had little doubt that I would be offered a permanent position. The pay was adequate, but not overly generous, but the hostel was quite cheap, so I found that I could manage to save some money, but not much.
The other typists made a habit of going out for a drink on Friday evenings, and meeting up with staff from other law firms. I wanted to be friendly, but I also did not want to spend more than I needed to, and of course I couldn't explain to them why I needed the money. However it seemed diplomatic to be friendly, so I went along. I was pleased to find out that unlike men and their habit of 'shouting', the women all paid for their own drinks, so by making one glass of wine last a long time, I kept the cost down.
It was soon time for my next appointment with Dr Brentwell. I had arranged to have an hour off 'for a medical appointment' on the understanding that I made up the time that evening. He asked me how I was finding my reaction to the oestrogen, and I told him I felt fine. I'd hardly noticed any changes yet, but he said that was quite normal. He also took another blood sample to check my testosterone level. Based on this result, my hormone dose might have to be adjusted, but he said he would ring me if that was needed. I explained I was living in a hostel, so it was arranged that I would ring his rooms in a week's time to check on any changes. Those were the days before we all had mobile phones, so communication was that much more difficult. When I rang, I was told that I should continue of the same dose.
The following month I again asked for an hour off and Miss Evans raised her eyebrows slightly, but again permission was given. I could see that there could be a problem. What if she thought I had some awful disease? I wondered if I dared tell her the real reason for my appointments and if that would be the end of my career as a legal typist?
The news about my testosterone was good. It was falling slowly and Dr Brentwell said that was excellent as a sudden drop would not be good for me. We spoke for half an hour about how I was managing my life. I told him I had occasional mood swings but nothing severe. Then I broached the subject of getting time off to come and see him, and how I didn't want to reveal the real reason in case they thought I had been deceptive in not explaining my situation when I first applied for the job.
“You should have told me before.” said Dr Brentwell. ”You are not the only person who is in 'stealth mode' as we call it, so one evening a week I consult until 9pm, and you can come and see me then.”
“Oh that is such a relief!” I said “I really didn't know what I was going to do.”
When I returned to the office, Miss Evans happened to be in the typing area.
“Everything alright my dear?” she said.
“Yes thank you Miss Evans. I won't have to ask for time off any more.”
The next couple of months went well. My testosterone level was steadily falling and I felt my skin was getting softer. Fortunately I had never had much body hair, and I now started having electrolysis which was more than a little painful, as much to my bank balance as my skin. It was about this time that I started to worry about how I was going to afford my transition. I had made tentative enquiries about surgery in Thailand, and while it was much cheaper than in Australia, when taking into account the air fare and accommodation, and the need to recuperate for several weeks, it looked well beyond my means.
Next time: A big decision
Author's note: Due to an error kindly pointed out by a reader, I have made amendments to chapters 4 and 7.
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