Tranny Regret

Do transsexuals get a second chance in the great gender-identity sweepstakes?

Men couldn't hold hands walking down the street. They had to be tough. "I hated the male role model," Berke says. He wanted to have heartfelt and intellectual conversations, but any time he tried to do that with a man, the man got up and left.

And Berke wanted to look pretty. "I envied what the girls got to do," he says. "The clothes. Makeup. The theatrics of it all."

In 1997, Berke began seeing Dr. Susan Levin, a Boca Raton-based clinical psychologist. Berke came to her with a credible self-diagnosis, Levin says. Reading psychology books, Berke had noticed that his own symptoms jibed with what psychologists call "borderline personality disorder."

The lack of a well-defined identity was the tip-off. "I'm a chameleon," he says. "My identity doesn't exist."

Still, Berke is poignantly aware of his shortcomings, acknowledging that he can be suicidal or self-abusive to the point of cutting his arms and legs with razor blades. His self-image shifts with the most off-hand comment from a stranger, he says. It's not an easy way to live.

"I had always told myself that I would have my shit together by the year 2000 or I was going to check out."

His first suicide attempt failed. The concoction of Tylenol PM and antidepressants didn't do the trick. So Berke tried to pull himself together. He got a job at a tanning salon, and his father set up a trust for him. With the extra bucks, he bought an Argentine thoroughbred named Destiny's Dream, which he trained and entered in barrel races. A bad fall off the horse ended the cowboy phase and started an addiction to Percocet, a narcotic painkiller. Soon after, he injured his knee and went on disability.

"That's when I said, 'Tomorrow, I'm going to start living as a woman.' "

When he walked through Levin's door one afternoon in 2003, dressed as a woman, the psychologist knew Berke wouldn't take no for an answer. She didn't try to dissuade him. A gender specialist might have handled things differently.

Putting too much collagen in a patient's lips or leaving too much flab after a tummy tuck — those are bad but correctable surgical mistakes. But mistakenly going the distance in a transsexual transformation could be a surgical nightmare.

That's why mental health professionals and surgeons usually follow the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (SOC). The bible of the gender-swapping community, the SOC provide strict guidelines defining what qualifies a candidate for hormones and surgery and when. But there are always a few who slip through the cracks.

Miami urologist and sexual reassignment surgeon Dr. Arthur Reed recalls three phone calls over his 24 years in practice — two from males and one from a female — asking for a "detransition." Reed, who estimates that he performs about four or five surgeries each week, did not accept the challenge. Likewise, he turns away patients who have not followed the SOC or those who are mentally unstable. They are legal liabilities.

"It's not enough for a person to look like a female," Reed says. "If the person is mentally unstable, it means they can't handle stress. I don't want to touch that person."

There's little research on the outcome of transsexual surgeries. In 2001, researcher Anne Lawrence sent questionnaires to 232 MTF patients of surgeon Dr. Tobias Meltzer. Six percent of the MTFs reported occasional regrets, and less than 1 percent switched back.

Berke is part of that extreme minority. The fact that he never had a gender specialist is troubling to experts within the transgender community.

"It's like having a heart problem and seeing someone other than a cardiologist," Miami sexologist Marilyn Volker says. She added that dual diagnoses of borderline personality disorder and gender-identity disorder raise a red flag that an individual might be gender variant — in other words, permanently undecided.

Volker has seen a lot of those kinds of patients. Some switch back and forth, or they feel they are both genders at once. Some are men who want breasts or women who prefer a penis. Gender is not a black-and-white issue, Volker insists; it's a spectrum. And for those who are gender-variant, Volker would not usually recommend any kind of surgery.

So why did Levin write a note to the surgeon, as recommended by the SOC, OKing Berke to go under the knife? Berke insisted, Levin says. Plus, she had been seeing him for seven years, so she felt qualified.

"It's difficult, because borderlines are very impulsive," said Levin, who spoke to New Times at Berke's request. "When you're a therapist, you can suggest and you can explain things, but ultimately, it was his decision. I certainly supported it if that made him feel better and made him happier with himself."

And it did — at first.

Over coffee and Camel cigarettes at his favorite Delray Beach bar, Koffeeokee, Berke talked about what it was like to be a woman. His eyes light up when he lists his surgeries, as if they are old friends he hasn't thought of in years.

There was the nose job. The brow lift. Fat injections in the cheeks. Breast implants. Electrolysis. Hormones. And more.

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3 comments
Nick3039959030
Nick3039959030

THey ever say what happened to the Balentine chick 

Nick3039959030
Nick3039959030

THey ever say what became of the Balentine chick? 

 
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