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So, what’s it like, then …?!

  • Posted on July 28, 2014 at 4:37 pm

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.

Remember, this is the most personal and honest place anyone has to face in life, and it is only about you. Never join the club, never be a follower, never wish you were ‘more trans’ so you could make your mind up to do this. Never be afraid to change your mind at any stage, but please, for your own sake, never let anything else ‘buy you off’ making the right decision for yourself. In the end we do not owe our lives to anyone else, and no-one owes theirs to us. And this is not a rehearsal.

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.