I’m preparing for my next major surgery. The date is May 19th. A mere 4 weeks away, and I can feel the nerves rising again. Meditation is helping. Also, knowing I made it through the facial surgery with minimal problems gives some comfort. My body seems to be OK with this stuff.
My facial feminization surgery on February 3rd appears to be a success. The healing is proceeding according to plan. I’m still uncomfortable (understatement), but things get a tiny bit better every day. I’m concentrating on eating healthy, exercising, and embracing patience. I’m pretty good at 2 out of 3. Wanna guess which one I suck at?
Discussing the next surgery is more complicated. It’s important to share the journey in case it can advance the conversation, answering some questions that are uncomfortable to ask. However, I also want to avoid putting too much focus on surgeries. I happen to be a trans person who not only wants these costly procedures, but who has the privilege and opportunity to access them. There are many ways to be transgender. I want to make sure I’m not adding to the impression that the paths I’m choosing represent the only correct ways. Please do not equate trans identity with genitalia. It’s not that simple. Also, these surgeries are covered nearly 100% by our Kaiser HMO plan. Without this coverage, it’s doubtful I would ever have the opportunity to do it at all.
I’m going to talk in generalities. If you want more detail, there’s plenty of info available out there. If only I had access to information when I was young. Would have saved me a ton of unhappiness.
“Someday I’ll get my operation”
Fall of 1982 I visited my sister Victoria at Western Michigan University, staying the weekend in her dorm room. The planned events included a Circle Jerks show and a few mood-altering substances. By the end of the concert I was obliterated by a combination of beer, pot and LSD. At some point I blacked out. I’m not sure how long I wandered around, but eventually the fog lifted and I came out of it. I was alone, sitting on the cement step in one of the dorm’s stairwells. I heard myself state out loud “Someday I’ll get my operation.” The echoing proclamation was startling. I knew about transsexual people and I knew about my own denied femininity. But at 18 years old I had not yet made the definitive and conscious connection between myself and that destiny. Not that I would admit. In hindsight I always knew, but I was a master of compartmentalization. A common trait among many LGBT people.
Saying it out loud broke my ability to deny it. I spent the next 24 years attempting to put that genie back in the bottle, but she wouldn’t go, the tenacious bitch.
A lifetime of self-loathing
Flash forward to now, skipping a lifetime of self-loathing and substance abuse. It’s not fun to remember how lost I was for most of my life. Only looking back on it from a happier perch can I admit what a difficult person I have been. Hatred of oneself heaps bullshit on everyone, not just the dummies who foist it upon themselves. If anyone reading this feels I mistreated them, I offer an apology. I was sometimes a total asshole.
Back in 1982, I guess I assumed one entered a hospital, had a “sex change”, and then everything changed. I didn’t yet understand the intricacies of talk therapy, hormones, electrolysis, and the billions of other details required to assist a gender transition. Maybe I can’t be blamed for my skewed ideas since they were mostly based on weird (and very rare) instances of gender transition in 1970s TV and movies. One of the first such stories I saw was an episode of Medical Center. Robert Reed (the dad on The Brady Bunch) played a doctor who is admitted to the hospital for “the operation”. He literally spent most of the episode dressed as a man and only appeared as a woman briefly at the end, after the procedure. She also seemed to have recovered very quickly, leaving almost immediately in a taxi. She was sad and alone, moving to a foreign country to live out the rest of her shameful life. It was all very dramatic, and depressing … and medically incorrect!!
The first positive portrayal of a trans person I encountered was July of 1982 when I read the John Irving novel The World According to Garp. The movie was coming out that week so I read the book in advance of the release. The character of Roberta Muldoon was a regular (albeit lonely) person. She was loved and admired by the other main characters, and although she had a thread of sadness that maybe plays a little victim-y today, it was the first time I felt maybe … maybe … a transsexual person could have a life that wasn’t full of torment. A couple months later I visited my sister and those drugs at Western Michigan University and woke in a stairwell, Scarlett O’Hara-ing about “my operation”.
And I was correct. Go figure.
The surgery I referred to in that stupor was the magical one which changes male genitalia into female genitalia. Today, I know there’s not nearly as much difference between those structures as most people think. The reconstructive surgery is really just a reconfiguration. It’s not simple, but it’s not as outlandish as my teenage brain imagined it.
Surgery for better health and marriage
Since I assumed I would never have the opportunity (money) to get full reconstructive surgery, I began considering a less drastic (and therefore less expensive) procedure that would allow me to settle into a better legal and physical state. In 2011 I had a bilateral orchiectomy. The surgery would allow me to dramatically lower the dosage of estrogen I needed to maintain secondary female physical characteristics. I’ll have to take estrogen for the rest of my life, but the large dosage required prior to the orchiectomy put me at higher risk for health issues. Also, once complete, the surgeon would sign an affidavit so I could petition my home state of Michigan for a new birth certificate in my new gender. This, in addition to another legal document ordering recognition of my female gender by the state of California, would allow me to live legally as female. I would change all my paperwork, and marry Mark as a heterosexual woman. This was prior to marriage equality, so it was the only way we could marry.
To share or not to share
One of the dangers of writing about this is reducing myself to body parts. There’s so much more to being trans than facial structures and genitalia. In talking about it publicly, it’s hard to determine the line between necessary privacy, and being open so cisgender people understand the issues.
I’ve decided to write about it but I’m still on the fence about whether I’m doing more harm than good. I’m not connected to a wider trans activist community and perhaps this could be seen by some as doing damage of some kind. I’m trying to perform my own version of activism. Or I’m fooling myself. Hard to tell sometimes.
These surgeries are simply the cherry on the sundae of my transition. Most of the work of transition has been in my mind and the adjustments made by the world around me.
Until the last few years, making this journey seemed incomprehensible. Most of my life I stood before the edge of a massive abyss, devastated by the idea of staying where I was, but also facing an impossible set of obstacles to get to the other side safely. I don’t exactly know what I thought I meant in that stairwell in 1982, but May 19th is the completion of some arc, a promise I made to myself. There’s poetry in that.