The New York Times
February 4, 2013

Ten summers ago, on an early evening stroll in Bangkok, I met a baby elephant. The animal’s owner was walking him past the open-air food stalls of one of the city night markets where, for the price of five Thai baht, one could purchase a handful of bamboo stalks and feed it to the little fellow. Concentrating on the broken sidewalk under my feet, and wishing not to trip, I hadn’t noticed the elephant until I nearly walked smack into him, eyeball to eyeball. Needless to say, it was a startling encounter. In my beloved Bronx, I had bumped into plenty of interesting creatures but no elephants. Being in Bangkok for extraordinary reasons, and in need of good luck, I fished into my purse and found a coin. I patted the head of the elephant for good measure as he crunched up his vegetarian treat. Two mornings later I was wheeled in for the surgery I had needed since childhood. It was a fearful experience being so far from the familiar comforts of my Grand Concourse apartment. There was no money in my bank for an American surgeon (who would have charged six times as much). Nor did I have medical insurance — not that it would have made any difference. In 2002, no American insurer would approve payment for transgender surgery.