On Tuesday this week, I had an appointment, to return to the hospital I left two months ago and review things. You know, those things. There is often a need to make minor adjustments, because as things heal and any swelling goes down, not everything may be quite as good as it can be – even peeing slightly sideways can be worth correcting – and sometimes a bit of cosmetic improvement is needed. I’ve been happy enough, from my mirror-and-feeling-around point of view, but there is always a chance that something might come up in the conversation to suggest a…
- being out
- Bramley Press
- Charing Cross
- coming out
- conversion therapy
- cross dressing
- gender dysphoria
- gender queer
- genital surgery
- Grrl Alex
- marriage vows
- muesli love
- name change
- raw sex
- real life experience
- trans children
- transgender poetry
This has been the most significant, final and irreversible week of direct action in my life so far. I gave some explanation of the process before, to enlighten the curious and worried, and I am not into giving ‘too much information’. Anyone who wants to research the surgical techniques can do as I did, and see how it’s really done, in graphic detail. There will be no new-born LOL cats on this blog! Nevertheless, I will have left people around me in various states of discomfort, curiosity, squeamishness and wild imagining.
I am proud of my surgeon’s reconstruction. It is authentic, functional, meticulous, and best of all, it is mine! Even during this early stage, it feels completely natural, looks amazing, and in every sense fulfils my long-held self-image. It is as if my brain were already pre-mapped onto this reconfiguration. Not one nerve surprises.
But what does it really feel like to, well, you know …?
What, wake up without your bits? OK. I’ll tell you, because if it matters to you, it really matters. If you’re just nosey, at least you’ll know it will never be you.
The last wee
It may be your horror, or your greatest dream, dear reader. But yes, there is always that last wee. If you’re trans, you’ll be sitting down anyway, and thinking perhaps of all those worrying times when it touched (yuk) the inside of the porcelain in some foreign loo! You will wash it for the last time, because trans people at this stage are meticulous in maintaining the best condition for their tissues. And like me, you will feel some relief, but most of all a complete disinterest in the idea of any loss whatsoever. In fact you probably won’t even be thinking ‘last time’.
But what about the last … you know?!
Believe me, you won’t remember it. It won’t have functioned for a long time, not like that. That’s why the anti-trans ‘bathroom scare’ of predatory ‘men in dresses’ is such a ludicrous proposition! You may well have had pleasure; I did. but in a new way, and all you are hoping is that ‘that’ bunch of nerves will still be functioning afterwards, repositioned correctly.
Could you have changed your mind at the last minute?
As I left the hospital, I was chatting with the discharge nurse, joking as to whether anyone had ever arrived at the hospital and run away again? ‘Oh yes! We once had someone jump off the anaesthetist’s trolley!’ Thank goodness …
For all my harping on about the gender clinic and appalling waiting times, and about the unsupported two year ‘real life experience’, it is absolutely vital that you come to this point with utter certainty that there is no alternative. This is no ‘nice to have’, no optional extra. This is no wasted NHS money on a lifestyle preference. No, this is a cure for which there is no alternative. If it isn’t that to you, stay away as long a you can. The problem as I see it, is that the so-called real life experience is nothing of the sort. If it was a prosthetic limb, you’d get physiotherapy. If it was mental health you’d receive therapy on adjusting to normal life. If it was loss of sight, you would have support and aids, groups and workers around you. This is because for all other conditions, they are considered as past events to adjust to. Gender transition is seen as a future event you are working towards, a diagnosis yet to be made. This is inadequate for helping people adjust to a gender presentation they have never been socialised into while growing up. To overcome this, as much needs to be undone as to be done.
So yes, you can stop at any point, though after signing the consent, they don’t lift the mask to ask ‘are you really sure?’
What does it feel like when you wake up?
Like any other procedure. You haven’t a clue where you are, what time of day it is, or what your last memory was. I have a very vague sense of a face and a reassuring female voice saying that it was over, or something. All I can remember was that I was breathing, and having to think about breathing! Then, much later, I realised I was back in my room, and it was late afternoon. Why had it taken so long (I went in at 11 am)? I asked the next day, and found that it had been very straightforward and over in two hours! I just took ages to come out of the anaethesia.
But yes, I did have time to come round and reflect what it was I was waking from. This was the brief period when I just knew that the decision had been final. Had I any shadow of doubt, this is when I would have screamed …
But I didn’t.
For a couple of days you don’t see much, and actually feel very little. The procedure is not actually a painful one, despite being quite invasive. The most uncomfortable part is usually the drains – tubes to relieve any fluid build-up – because they’re sutured into place and pull the tender skin of your lower tummy. So the greatest psychological rearrangement is simply knowing that you have been reconstructed as expected. There’s plenty of time to let it sink in.
And when you look down …?
I’d like to write separately about this, because there is some profound realisation about sex and self here, so watch out for the next thrilling episode …
If you are reading this from any perspective where male bits matter to you, you will not understand. You will see it as an awful dismembering loss. This is OK. If, on the other hand, you are reading from a perspective of horror at your own body being not right, it may seem a dream come true to find the bits magically disappeared. This also is OK. But as I have written before, this is reconstructive surgery, not amputation, and this is vital to understanding why people like me go this far. For me, there was something always missing, not just something present.
The first time I looked down, of course, I couldn’t see anything. The bandaging is actually pretty minimal, and you have three tubes, and someone shaved you while you were asleep! Apart from that, you are left with knowing that the job has been done. And you just get used to the fact that rather a lot of people are going to be looking freely at your vulva in the next week. And they will be seeing a lot more than you for a few more days! Dignity? Hey, a small price to pay, because this feels good. Very good indeed.
I did say to the nurses one day, as they examined me, ‘this must seem very strange to you?’ They just said, ‘no; you’re just like us.’
Doesn’t it feel odd though?
Of course it might seem that way, but it doesn’t. People having this surgery will react very individually. For some it is right, but nonetheless difficult. For others it will have them whooping as soon as they can draw breath. I think my first words in deep mists of anaesthesia were ‘thank you’.
To be honest it has been a very normal thing for me. No surprises, no disappointments, a better than expected outcome, a textbook result, minimal bruising and swelling etc. I have been one of the lucky ones, so far with no difficulties. These may yet come. But I will always remember three events:
- the first mirror experience down there: how neat, how tidy, how right, how me
- the first full length mirror experience back at home: how perfect, how right, how complete
- the first think-in-the-bath: my goodness, how lovely.
Perhaps oddly, I have not one backward glance in my mind or memory, because this, now, is how I feel I should always have been. And that really is the odd bit, that I cannot any longer even imagine having a penis. Its significance has completely disappeared, in a way that I had not expected to such a degree. And to have a vagina? It just feels normal, not particularly new.
This, fundamentally, is the final proof of the diagnosis and treatment, that it is so overwhelmingly ordinary once you have been put right. No-one else could possibly feel like this over something that strikes so intimately and deeply into one’s sense of self and identity, with such finality.
Summary: what it is really like
This, for me, has been at once more profound and more ordinary than I had imagined. Yes, it is an amazing privilege to have received such professional and expert treatment. Yes, it marks both the end of a long physical, mental and social journey, and the beginning of a new fully-released sense of self. Yes, there is a substantial period of aftercare, during which in a sense I shape my own vagina. Yes, there is a certain getting used to the differences. But more than anything, I just feel terribly ordinary now, ready for whatever comes next. Complete.
I have written openly and extensively for two and half years, and will add some bits and pieces. If anything seems worth adding for those of you going through this, or watching others, I shall add more. I think it’s important to be direct and honest, because no-one should get through to this point without being very fully aware of what it is about. I do know that for many non-trans people this is unfathomable. And that for some trans people, knowing all this above, there will be an awareness and a comfort that they don’t need to change this much. Please, be yourself and be proud of it. But for many, this will be a scary part that lies ahead, both a dream and a nightmare. Don’t be afraid. Keep asking all the questions of yourself and you will know. If it’s right for you, you can come through, and then leave it all behind.
Finally, for most trans people, there are family and partners for whom all this is just too much. You can’t help them understand anything that they can’t face. You can only be you, and maybe one day they will be able to peep through the cracks of their own fears just enough to realise you’re still there. Yes, you.
This poem, also from my collection Realisations, predicts the feeling of completing surgery, even before I began living full-time in my authentic gender. Would it be like this? I didn’t read it for a very long time, I actually thought it a bit presumptuous. I read it two days after coming home from hospital. I cried. I would not rewrite a single word.
Hold this day, this birth day
write it in your diary, send me cards.
Never has a vaginal passage
delivered such a child as this –
she is an inversion of another
a restoration, a renaissance.
And this is her day, emerging
without cries, or protest, or recoil
but claiming birth-right almost
in defiance of everything umbilical –
with pain, blood, trauma and delivery
come to claim her world, her way.
Waking, ethereal, calm, complete
from mists of anaesthesia, almost in
disbelief at her prior parent, pregnant
with this progeny lain so long –
a gestation – no, an indigestion,
an indignity of containment.
I grasp this day, this birth day
red date in every diary, calendar
every future memory, mark and
milestone – and slip into life.
2012 © Andie Davidson
I have told friends before and written it here somewhere. Years before I came to really understand the way I was, I would slip out from my office, cross the narrow street and spend a lunchtime in the Brighton (Triratna) Buddhist Centre. No religion, no doctrines, no god, just a chance to experience guided meditation and a break from a busy day.
There I would step out of my shoes, leave my role behind, grab cushions and fold my stockinged feet (no, not socks) into meditative balance. I felt the ‘wrong’ appearances may be at least understood a little. And these little hints were certainly beginning to slip out. Nobody minded, if they noticed at all.
And there I sat, deeply mindful, cultivating loving kindness, or just sitting. And in just sitting, my inner perception of my body was serenely different. I could no longer feel the presence of my bits, crammed into the ‘wrong’ underwear (since my teens – no, not ideal) but I was aware of an inner anatomy not my own, and of ‘my’ breasts. Quietly and calmly, I was not a man at all. It wasn’t distracting, or exciting. It simply was. Equally, it was unshakeable. Was it somehow ‘real’? Or was it a developing delusion to get me out of the impossible situation I was heading towards?
Somewhere in intervening years, I learned what a female orgasm was. Too much info.? Come on, these are likeable things we all do. The important thing for me was the discovery that a completely different kind of stimulus, in different and imagined (inaccessible) places could have a completely different outcome, even when my body was as it was. I ‘knew’ the parts of me that weren’t there, and I knew exactly where they were! OK, I admit that the tuition of 30 years marriage meant few secrets, and I’m a highly intuitive person … But then there was today.
Uncomfortable about genitals? Look away now. Come back next week. But I have always maintained the principle of real observation in this blog, and I feel this is important.
Today was the grand unveiling. This morning all surgical dressings were removed and for the first time I had to open (dilate) my vagina. Shiny perspex ‘stents’ are used, in various sizes, in order to stretch and maintain the channel created by surgery. It isn’t painful (or pleasurable yet). During the reconstructive surgery your own tissue is rearranged, including nerve endings. Isn’t this going to feel like a muddle? What is this opening that has never existed before? What direction? How deep? Of course you don’t know until you’ve been shown, and try it.
I saw exactly what I’d expected. You really do need to work through the surgical outcomes pictures before this moment. My outcomes included minimal or no bruising, textbook normal. Next, the first insertion. In it went, all the way and I held it there, relaxing for the required time. Weird? No. The only impression I had was of normality, as if I’d done this lots of times before. In my mind I had; and in my mind, as in the meditation, I’d somehow got it right.
This reminds me of my dance that came from nowhere. Both will continue to improve, both are intuitive. And both are, for me, a profound affirmation of what and who I am.
I used to have gender dysphoria. Now I don’t.
No, I still can’t explain it, or rationalise it. I do know for certain I wouldn’t be here now if it was a matter of preference or choice, and that this has been the only practical resolution. If you feel it is a choice, don’t do it. But if it is the only way out, I can reassure that it is not an escape but a very positive authentic act. It may also be that you too can never find sufficient explanation for those bemused friends or family who simply cannot imagine why anyone could want this. That is not our concern. I have received a gift here for which I shall be eternally grateful, but only because it was more important than anything else in being true to myself.
Good luck in your journey, or being alongside another’s.
The trouble with being a writer is that sometimes you just have to write. When I began this blog I wrote twice a week, and as the weeks close on my gender dysphoria, my mind is filling again.
‘Uncoupling’ has featured in three key ways over these past years. Firstly, it was uncoupling from an accustomed life, presumed male, involving work, family, relationships, activism, social activities and so on. Secondly, there was uncoupling from all the love in my life, as my family and marriage disintegrated and I was no longer wanted. This was accompanied by having to leave behind everything I had accrued, socially and materially and emotionally.
This time, the uncoupling is from the gender dysphoria itself, and this is no small thing. I wrote recently of it as emerging from a long tunnel into daylight, realising nothing was following or chasing, and nothing threatening ahead, just open air.
This weekend has been once more profound. Starting (again) in my dance group, I felt such welcome, acceptance, and dare I say it, love, that I left in a mist of sheer gratitude. I had asked the whole group, that if any felt so minded, I would welcome anyone to track me down and call by during my coming absence from the dance. I do believe they would even stretcher me there simply to lie in the midst of the dance if necessary! But I shall be very sensible … And I know some will call round, and it will be lovely.
Some understand why I shall be away, and I do mean understand: that this is a fundamental and life-affirming thing for me, and that it will finally change important parts of my psyche. Some, not knowing the reason, have been afraid that perhaps I am fighting cancer, and I can only reassure this is not life-threatening, but something I have waited a long time for.
So as I face this uncoupling from my gender dysphoria, I have a small dilemma: to tell one who does not know, why I shall be away, places me in the category of transsexual (‘used to be a man’), where I do not want to be. Even this blog blows my cover, if that is what I aspire to. Uncoupling is not denial, though. It is just that this step is a very final and transforming one. It was my decision to ask for it and to go through with it, and is solely my responsibility.
Why this matters
I had imagined that everything would be smooth and gradual, a daily ‘getting there’. Then last week, I told of realising my body had changed more than I’d noticed. The summer clothes from last year and before just don’t fit as well. Red is a colour I can wear with confidence. I checked my bra size today. You know, I last did this properly when I didn’t have boobs, and had to buy some! I got the smallest cup size bra I could, and silicone fillers to fit that. When I didn’t need them any more, I simply went for the smallest cup size I could find online (40A isn’t in the shops much!) and it was OK. But today I am 38B, and that just feels more normal. And I tucked a favourite skirt waistband in a bit too.
It does just feel like getting more normal again. I don’t mean to say that being transsexual is not normal (other than in the statistical sense of average), but that I am a woman in a very normal way.
Last night I was chatting to a number of women musicians from Australia about bands, and countries, and travel and all the things we have in common. A year ago I would have been wary about being noticeably ‘different’, but nowadays it is only in reflection that being anything other than normal enters my mind. Being trans is a state of being I am leaving behind, and others are forgetting it too. This is good.
After the coming-to-terms and acknowledging the fear of surgery itself, a few weeks ago, things have changed. There is so much to prepare for, so that my return home is as straightforward as possible. Some will go against the grain out of sheer practicality, including ready-meals and a microwave oven, but only for a while. Right now, under the duress of zero hormones, I could be feeling down. My body and facial hair are unrestrained by oestrogen, and it annoys me! My moods may yet change and I may become irritable. I do know already that I shall be glad to be back on the pills.
Instead, I feel excited. I really, really want this, and I am almost there. I feel full of energy, and above all, incredibly empowered. That’s right, I, a transsexual woman who has come through serial psychiatric assessment and intervention, to live in a world where both women and transsexual people can be disadvantaged, having lost everything that meant most to me, without lasting financial security, and with no loving relationship, feel empowered. Remind me, as I struggle through the first month of recovery: I am strong.
And so I am expecting further change in the next six months, as I grasp this final uncoupling, this last big thing that has been holding me back.
I have met with my former wife a couple of times recently, so uncoupling still has a ring there too. I know I feel no differently about her than I ever did. I also know that there is no echo. This has all been too strange, and it is not something she ever has to come to terms with. I am still here, all of me, though released. It is unexpected; I look different, I ask directions, I call the waitress over; I am a woman. But not loved. Uncoupled.