My face surgery, with lots of pictures

Leaving our house at 4:35 a.m. on Wednesday, November 22, Julie and I headed to IU North hospital, in Carmel, which is on the north side of Indianapolis, for my facial feminization surgery with Dr. Barry Eppley.  https://www.eppleyplasticsurgery.com/

Just before 7:00 a.m., Dr. Eppley and his two fellows—doctors training in this plastic surgery specialty—entered my pre-op room, to prep me for what would be a long day of work for the doctor.  As with my surgeries in January and April, I was confident, not at all nervous, and in good spirits.  Dr. Eppley, too, was in fine fettle.  He and I played to our audience of Julie and the two fellows, and laughter ensued as the marking of my face began.

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That’s Dr. Eppley’s hands, after he made the first mark.  I was reacting to his regular comment, that I don’t really have a hairline.  Even so, he was going to work to move my scalp forward all that he could.  He quipped, “A good thing about your being older is that your scalp is looser.”  Gee, thanks, Doc.

It never occurred to me to get a photo of Dr. Eppley, so I grabbed one off the internet.

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Dr. E’s robust personality is not captured in this image.  I’m pleased to tell you that he is good-natured, laughs easily, and thoroughly addresses every question and concern.

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I was able to tell that his markings became ridiculous.  He replied, “Oh, these are only to tell me where I am working.  I will redraw them in surgery.”  Whew.  My fear subsided, that I would have to be taking up work as a clown.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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The job completed, Dr. E soon would be cutting at my chin and cheeks and neck, up to my ears, all around my mouth, above my eyes, at at my so-called hairline.  (Ooo, I have a new line to use: “Yes, folks, I was up to my ears in surgery!”)

What of my nose, you’re wondering?  Yes, I had intended to have a nose job.  From the start, Dr. E commented—and I knew, from my own observation—that my nose was not overly large, and that it could receive a pass, or slight work and a bit of a bob on its tip.  Only a week before surgery, I decided to leave it alone.  Why?  It always felt like it would be too much, to have too cute of a nose.  Now, post-op, observing myself, I feel good about my decision.  Besides, in these post-op days, it is nice to have one spot on my face that is not numb or sore, which I can touch without trepidation.

Into surgery we went.  Eight hours later, out of surgery I came.  Before I awoke, Julie snapped the first pics, of which the following is best.

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No swelling or black-and-blue having set in, I look kinda cute—sort of Nanook of the North cute.  Well, I think so anyway, so shush yourselves.

In January, my vocal cord surgery was only a few hours.  I awoke quite easily from the anesthesia.  In April, my sex reassignment/gender affirming surgery was more than six hours.  Waking up from that, I was in and out for a few hours before I finally felt lucid.

This surgery went a full eight hours.  They tell me that I was responsive when admitted to my room from the OR, but I have no recollection.  It was a couple of hours before my first attempts at awaking, and each try was short-lived.  I simply could not keep my eyes open, and my left eye watered so badly that I could barely see.  (The watering persisted for two days, a most frustrating thing.)

It was now night and, except for the nurse and CNA coming in every couple of hours to check my blood pressure, or to give me meds, or to be sure to make enough light and noise so that Julie would never be able to get decent rest on the pretty decent couch which lined the spot under the window, I was left to sleep.  Finally, by 5:00 a.m., I was able to wake up, open my eyes, and remain awake.  I had my first food—the only time plain red Jello tastes good—and soon I was asking when I could be discharged.

At 7:30, Dr. Eppley entered.  It was Thanksgiving Day, and he soon would head out of town to spend the holiday weekend with family.  Even so, he stayed a good long time with us, going over everything, answering our questions, and making enjoyable conversation.

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He removed the white head dressing and began inspecting his work.  My ears were caked with blood.  Above, he’s cleaning it out.

At the end of this post, I will place before and after pictures for comparison, but you can see the difference in my eyebrows.  They now sit above their former position, and Dr. E flared them up at the ends.

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This one, above, has become my favorite picture.  My neck no longer sags.  My forehead no longer juts out as males’ do.  My entire profile looks smooth, akin to a typical female.

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Dr. E inspected every stitch point.  As, in this pic, I see him checking around my eyes, I am reminded that I had created a stir for the nurse when I vomited late Wednesday night.  It was soon after I had my first sips of water.  As happened to me in April, my stomach rejected it.  The nurse sort of freaked, when I puked.

Because of all of my face stitches, the concern was that I would have a hematoma, the breaking of a blood vessel at one or more of the stitches, caused by my violent retches, of which there were three.  She placed a call to Dr. E.  Thankfully, my face held.  When Dr E talked of it Thursday morning, it was obvious that he felt I had dodged a bullet.  Score one for my nimble reflexes, or hearty German heritage, or good clean living.  Yeah, that last one.

In order to hold my neck in place, Dr. E produced this dreadful face stocking, below.  It was so tight, he had to rip it at the seam to get it to fit.  (Really, people, do I look like a medium?)

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Don’t worry, it looks way more comfortable than it was.  Seriously, it was okay until the last half of day two.  Thankfully, I was allowed to remove it on Saturday.  What’s the first thing I did after that?  I took a shower!  Oh, glorious stream of hot water, how I missed you!

Before I got to Saturday, I had to experience Friday.  I awoke to swelling and bruising, and it grew worse throughout the day.  I had trouble seeing, especially from my left eye, which is my good eye.  Not only is the vision bad in my right eye—a few years ago, it went bad over a very short period—it also has a cataract which is nearly ripe for the removing.  So, to have my left eye more swollen and watering, well, you can finish this sentence.

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The numbness now also had settled in.  From Friday to now, as I type this Sunday morning, I went numb across my mouth, extending well outside of my lips—that’s at least forty stitches encircling my lips, kids, and they all have to be removed. Woo hoo!—all across my brow line, the top of my head (you all were right: I’m a numb skull), my jaws, and at my ears.

While the pain meds are doing their job, there’s nothing that can change the feeling of the numbness.  It’s just plain uncomfortable.  My patience is being put to good use.  I’ve only had one little moment of crying, the frustration getting to me this morning.

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I tried to smile for this picture, which I took Saturday morning.  It was physically impossible for me to pull it off.  I felt exactly as I look.  (But you ought to see the other guy!  That’s right, did I show him.  That punk, thinking he could take a sixty-year-old who has nimble reflexes, a hearty German heritage, and excels at good clean living.)

While I am allowed to shower, I cannot shampoo my hair.  Plus, I have stitches all over my scalp.  Brushing my hair has been an exercise in futility.

Note the bruising under my eyes has deepened.  Other than that, I have not noticed any worsening of the swelling, or anything else.

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A question for you.  When one is not done with the job of electrolysis, meaning that after a few days what white whiskers are left are going to be looking really scraggly, how does it work to shave a numb face?  I have the answer for you: very carefully.  In the picture, above, which is from Sunday morning, can you tell that I shaved?  Come on, people—I got all gussied up just for you!  Harrumph.

Onto the direct comparisons.  The three key areas are remarkable in their change: 1) brow shave and lift, 2) lip enhancement, and 3) face lift.

Now, the side view.  My neck has been tightened and jowls are gone.  My formerly jutting brow is smooth.  And I think my old nose is holding its own, just fine.

That’s it for now, four days post-op.

Putting this together has been marvelously therapeutic.  I was pretty down, all morning, knowing that I had another day of misery and boredom ahead of me, with the prospects of many more until I return to Dr. E on Friday, and hoping to be able to get back to jogging soon after that.

Putting together this picture story, and especially looking at the final two sets of before and after pictures, my spirits are lifted.  I am elated!

One can look at tons of pictures of others who have gone through this—I sure did—but one cannot know the result she or he will get, or how happy she or he will be.  So far, I am impressed with Dr. Eppley’s worked and very pleased with how I look.

Soon, I will be able to post pictures of myself, all healed.  I promise, I’ll shave my face, and wash and brush my hair.

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The more I change . . .

 

Say goodbye to this old mug!

As, tomorrow, I head into my third transition surgery of 2017—this one being facial feminization surgery (FFS)—here is what I am expecting:

  • I will look less masculine, more feminine, yet still look like me. Oh, and a bit more youthful, thanks to the face lift—sagging neck and jowls, begone!
  • I will feel about myself exactly what I feel today, which is what I have been feeling about myself throughout this surgery-filled 2017.

Which has been quite surprising.

One does not know what one will experience by transitioning. One can read about the experiences of others, watch videos, and ask questions. I sure did a lot of all three of those. Yet, as is the case with everything in life—lessons I especially learned firsthand when my son died and when I went through a divorce—observing the experience of other does not come close to personally going through something.

I had watched two siblings go through divorce. I knew people who had lost children. When I experienced the gut-wrenching loss, the gigantic hole which both of these created in me, I learned that I had not learned anything significant from only observing them.

So it has been with transitioning. I prepared as best I could, and then I went and underwent stuff that was completely my own, things for which no amount of reading could ready me.

Fourteen months ago, I wrote about how Gina was deepening and Greg was lessening. This was something I expected to occur, even as I did not know exactly how it would happen. Here is that post:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/gina-deepens-as-greg-lessens/

In that piece, in September of 2016, I wrote this, “A very odd experience is that I view my former life as if looking at photo albums and home movies of another person . . .”

This sense remained with me for several months. It was not a comfortable thing, feeling that I was seeing another person’s life when it was my own. I am pleased to report that it no longer is the case. Sometime early this year, I noticed that it was gone. Now, when I ponder any time of my life, I experience it the same as I did before I began transitioning.

Indeed, what I have found is that the more I change—living as a female, legally changing my name, going through the three transition surgeries—the more I do not change. Not a bit. Not the person who is me.

Wrap the package how you want, the contents are not affected.

I am pleased to report that this is marvelously comforting.

As, over the course of my fifties, I grew to hate myself, I now am able to compartmentalize what the hatred was. My self-loathing was strictly due to my gender identity struggle, being a male, forced to live as a male, feeling there was no future for me as a female, yet finding the lifelong desire to be female to have deepened so much that it was as deniable as a basketball-sized tumor in my brain.

I hope you understand how that would develop into self-hatred. Of not being able to look at myself in a mirror. Of cursing the male clothes I had to put on every morning. Of being unable to scream out to the world how badly I was hurting.

That was then. It’s not now. Whew.

Removing that self-hatred, I can once again see and appreciate the wonderful, blessed life I’ve enjoyed, one full of love and achievement and unique experiences. While it would have been nice not to have had to live through those years, which were worse than my divorce and the death of my son, combined, the Lord got me through it. And Julie, my little Jesus, got me through it. And many of you, and a host of therapists and doctors, got me through it.

And I am coming out the other end of it all the same person I was when I entered it. And this pleases me because—I hope this does not come off as bragging—I worked really hard at my life, and I was happy with the person I was.

In 2013, my hope would have been that, by 2017, I would feel and look and act completely differently, so badly was I hurting in body, mind, and spirit. Now, I am so pleased that I feel and act exactly as I had before I grew ill.

So, what of tomorrow’s surgery? As for how I look, I want to continue to look like me—I no longer hate the image I see in the mirror, but I want the image to be more feminine—so my hope is that my new face will be a gently more female version of the same old-but-now-slightly-younger-looking me.

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I’m still me. Whew.

To you, that might sound like a silly thing, as in, “Who else could you be?” I’m here to tell you, I was someone else. The 2013 me was a mess; I was pasting on Greg for the sake of others. 2014 was no better. 2015 had some ups, but the downs were just as deep. 2016 was a turnaround year. 2017 has continued the turnaround, but I’d be deceiving you if I led you to believe that all of my struggles are gone.

But, wow, much progress has been made. Yea, for progress! For healing! For figuring things out! For living to tell about it!

Julie and I will head to the hospital before sunrise, tomorrow. I’ll be in surgery up to eight hours.

The plan is to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday. Thanksgiving Day. While Julie and I will not be feasting on food—we already did that with our Indy daughter and grandchildren—we will come home from the hospital and, no doubt, will let out a great big, “Whew!” like the one I just let out as I paused after typing that.

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Finally, though these days I go by Gina, I’m still Greg.

I’m still Greg.

I never saw that coming.

I’m really pleased about that.

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Right before surgery, I will take Julie’s hand and we will pray.  I will begin by reciting the 121st Psalm, which is my favorite.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Meet a trans person: Colleen

 

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Colleen, in the autumn of 2017.

Not everyone is “happy” about transitioning. If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition. Yet, I see no viable alternative to transitioning. I’ve come to realize that, before I started on the path to transitioning to live my life as a woman, I was slowly dying. I was living each day, waiting to die a natural death. I call this committing “passive suicide”. There was no hope for me in this life. Now that I am on the path to transitioning to living as a woman, my life has gained new vitality, excitement, joy, hope and peace.

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The opening quote comes from Colleen, a fellow Christian, who prefers, as do I, to remain a member in a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), but who has been facing the same obstacles as I. This profile of Colleen is what I hope is the first in a series, in which you will get to know trans folks, to learn of their struggles and joys, gains and losses, unique challenges and our common experiences.

Last spring, Colleen was informed about me at her trans group by a trans guy who knew of my blog and, what he thought would be most interesting to Colleen, that I had been a LCMS pastor. A few days after Colleen’s first comment on my blog, we were talking on the phone. Over the past six months, we have become great friends, especially able to commiserate with each other in our transitioning, our Christian faith, and family concerns.

Noting her Irish ancestry, Colleen, who continues to identify as a genetic male while she now considers herself a transgender woman, says that she chose the name because she likes it and it’s Irish. She quickly pointed out that “Colleen” is Irish for “girl,” which, she giggled through the phone, seemed appropriate.

Colleen is a bit older than me and, in commencing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in January of this year, began her route to finally, fully transitioning about a decade older than when I began. This is not her first attempt at transitioning. She initially considered it at the age of twenty-two, after finishing her army enlistment and becoming a college student. Fourteen years later, she once again was giving it serious thought, so she began seeing a therapist.

The next year, she backed away from transitioning and found a Christian psychologist. She longed to salvage her marriage, to be the best husband and father she could be, and understand what it meant to be a godly man.

Her story matches that of so many who suffer this terrible sex and gender mismatch. She once again found herself struggling to be the man she longed to be. In 1998, she finally tried HRT, taking estrogen transdermally for four months. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma, which would require chemotherapy and radiation, she feared that the estrogen had caused it. Though she was assured it had not, this was a setback to her transitioning.

As is the case for so many of us, Colleen tried to distract herself from her identity issues, which she prefers to call “gender dissonance” rather than “gender dysphoria,” as “dissonance” means “discord” and “unrest,” where “dysphoria” means “ill feelings.” She finds that discord and unrest speak better to the internal struggle for identity. She sought to ease the dissonance by dedicating herself to her three children, and to work and church. Twice divorced, Colleen was dedicated to the job of single dad, and the person whom everyone saw as a regular man excelled in computer work and was a valuable member of his congregation, even becoming an elder and church convention delegate.

But, “he” had been experiencing identity issues since the age of five or six. Colleen says, “I remember a specific time at about the age of six when I recall watching my mother getting ready for work and I was thinking, ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be like her.’” Around age ten, she had seen a sensational tabloid newspaper article about the USA’s first transsexual, Christine Jorgensen. “I was fascinated by the article and I re-read it numerous times. I realized, after reading about Christine, that this was what I was; a transsexual.”

Toward the close of our first phone chat, I told Colleen that I found us to be kindred spirits. For both of us, our ultimate concern is our faith in the Lord Jesus, along with abiding in right doctrine and living God-pleasing lives. Both of us were concerned, first and foremost, that our desire to be female was nothing but a sinful weakness. It was only in learning that our identity issue was as physically real as any malady that we were able to address it head on. “As a committed, born again Christian,” Colleen says, “I did not see how I could transition without sinning in the eyes of God. I have since come to understand that this is not some sinful desire which I feel and am acting on. I suffer from a physical malady. My gender dissonance is likely the result of something which went wrong in my brain development while in my mother’s womb.”

Colleen has continually displayed a desire to be a godly person. In 2006, her mother now diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and father in the early stages of dementia, the dutiful son left Michigan for Alabama to care for them. Both parents now deceased, Alabama stuck as home.

Though she is at an age when many go into retirement, Colleen needs to be working, so she is facing what so many trans folks encounter: looking for a job, only at the beginning of legally changing her name, presenting herself as male in this situation and as female in that, and for the last several months going through the methodical process of telling family, friends, and business associates about her being transgender. She is diligent about considering every situation, wanting things to go best for her and, even more, longing for those she encounters not to be hurt, offended, or put off in any way with her being trans.

This is commendable about Colleen, and it is not unusual for a trans person. My experience with trans women and men has taught me that it is more common than not that we don’t want to upset others. Also, we realize that the smoother we make it for our families, friends, and coworkers, the smoother things will be for us.

For Colleen, this is of the greatest importance to her being a Christian. As she longs to glorify her Lord Jesus, she is keenly aware that we best do this by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, always striving to live the Golden Rule, treating others as we want them to treat us.

As Colleen has been transitioning this year, she has been regularly pleased that she is gendered by others as a female. Numerous times, as we have chatted, she’s said, “I was presenting as a male, even with a name badge which has my birth name, and they still thought I was a female!” As one who has struggled in this arena, I’ve regularly told her that I hate her . . . jokingly.

Besides transitioning socially, getting her name legally changed, and with HRT, Colleen hopes to have gender confirmation surgery, a tracheal shave (smoothing out the Adam’s apple), and a face lift. Does she need all of this in order to live as her authentic self, a phrase heard from many trans folks? “I have never felt I was not my ‘authentic self.’ I have always been just ‘me.’ From my earliest years, I have experienced the tension of dissonance between my physical body sex and how I perceive myself to be in my brain. Even today, as I am in the middle of transition, I just feel like ‘me.’ I cannot comprehend that I could ‘be’ anything else.”

For the trans person, issues arise in every sphere of life. Because civil rights are involved, the T of transgender has been combined with the LGB of lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and of late the Q of questioning/queer. Colleen would prefer the T not be included because of a common misconception about trans folks. “I think we are being connected with the LGB people because most other people view us as being extreme homosexuals.”

How do we improve the situation? “This is a good news/bad news question. I believe it is good news that the gender identity issue has been publicized. Cisgender people need to be made aware of, and educated about, the reality of gender identity dissonance. This is also the bad news, because the trans community is being very forceful in demanding acceptance and support from all areas of society. This has caused considerable social conflict and misunderstanding. Finding some middle ground will, in my view, likely take decades to accomplish.”

As Colleen faces every struggle, she never forgets her blessings. “My greatest joys in life have been the births and lives of my children and my grandchildren. It has been so rewarding to see my children grow to become self-sufficient, responsible, capable adults. And likewise, I take great satisfaction and joy in participating in the life and growth of my grandchildren (three of five live nearby). It has also been a joy and a struggle as I work through the process of transitioning from living as a male to living as a woman. I have found great peace and contentment since being on hormone replacement therapy. I have never in my life felt such peace. The process of transitioning is also my biggest struggle. As someone who is well known in my local business community, it has been a struggle to inform my business acquaintances of my transition and to gain their acceptance and retain their respect.”

Respect. That’s a big one for almost every trans person. For Colleen, it extends to her Christian faith, which is the most important thing in her life. As a “born again, conservative, evangelical, liturgical, confessional Lutheran Christian,” she longs not to offend the Lord, her fellow Christians, or any human being. Once again, from the quote which opened this piece: “If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition.”

Oh, that every American would be as concerned as Colleen, working to live a highly ethical life, with kindness and compassion for all. No matter one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, what a country we would be if we had a lot more like Colleen.

Trans Ed 101: sex and gender

In the news: Kim Kardashian accidently revealed the gender of her baby on Ellen. My reaction: Um, nope; she didn’t.

Speaking of a Kardashian, I am reminded of Caitlyn Jenner, of whom it’s often been questioned whether she’s had gender reassignment surgery. The answer is “no,” even without asking her. The reason? No one has ever had gender reassignment surgery, because it doesn’t exist.

On my driver’s license, I had my gender marker changed from male to female. Or, wait—I had my sex marker changed. Ugh. Which is it?

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Sex and gender are not the same thing. To help keep it straight, it is bluntly said that sex is what is between your legs and gender is what’s between your ears. More scientifically speaking, sex is biological and gender is experienced. Or, to put it yet another way, sex is objective—I can identify my sex organs with my eyes—and gender is subjective—by simply looking at another person, I can’t tell whether this one or that identifies as female or male or questioning/queer.

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In this age of our finally, openly talking about transgender issues, it is bewildering so often to hear sex and gender being used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. Turning my bewilderment to downright consternation is that even transgender folks are heard confusing the two.

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I begin with this thing which, along with baby bump selfies, has become popular: the gender reveal.

The doctor moves the sonogram wand over the pregnant woman’s belly, gets a good view of the fetus, and then asks, “Do you want to know the baby’s sex?”

Catch that: the baby’s sex. The doctor sees the genitals of the fetus and feels confident making a pronouncement. Assuming the genitals do not appear ambiguous, one of two determinations is made: boy or girl—the baby’s sex.

Sex, not gender. The sonogram wand cannot read the baby’s mind, to determine her or his or their gender.

Somehow, identifying the baby’s sex has gotten translated to revealing the baby’s gender. Despite our new awareness of all things sex and gender, I should not be surprise; almost everyone uses “jealous” when they mean “envious.” We simply don’t pay enough attention to words.

[In case you’re curious, and I hope you are, think of jealousy and envy this way: when you are jealous of someone, you don’t want her to have what she has, and when you are envious you want what she has. Jealousy: “I wish that guy were my boyfriend, not Monica’s.” Envy: “I wish I had as nice a boyfriend as Monica’s.”]

Trans folks have preferred to get away from the use of the word “sex,” because it can cause hearers to think that this is about sex, or the act of having sex, and having sex is not what we want heard. So, the original word, “transsexual,” has largely fallen out of favor and replaced with “transgender.”

This takes me to the term “gender reassignment surgery.” The original term for the surgical alteration of one’s genitals was “sex reassignment surgery.” With the new preference for using “transgender” over “transsexual,” it seems that folks simply replaced “sex” with “gender” for the term for this surgery. Not so fast.

The gender of a person is not being changed. To alter one’s gender would mean to do brain surgery, to perform a self-identity-altering procedure. Such an operation does not exist. If it had, I might have opted for it, so that I could have successfully lived as a cisgender male, “cisgender” referring to one whose sex and gender identity match.

Since “sex” is no longer preferred for this surgery, how might we replace it with “gender”? It’s easy enough and is done by those who are paying attention. Many now call it “gender confirmation (or confirming) surgery,” while others, such as the University of Michigan’s hospital, use “gender affirmation (or affirming) surgery.”

I like the sound of “affirming,” but I refrain from typing the term as an acronym, as U of M does: GAS. Believe you me, having this surgery was not a gas! [Note to those of a younger generation regarding having a gas: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/having+a+gas ]

Onto the driver’s license, and the question on so many forms. Are we being asked our sex or gender? Historically, the request was: “Sex: Male___ Female___.” Nowadays, forms might ask your sex, and they might ask your gender. There seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Maybe, they should ask both.

When I was in the early stages of transitioning, months before I had my name and, ahem, gender marker legally changed, and well over a year before my GAS (see? It looks weird), I was filling out a form at my dentist. Asked for my sex, I indecisively circled “male” and moved on. I returned to it and circled “female.” I then made a line joining the two and wrote “transgender.”

Some places are getting away from asking one to indicate sex/gender, while other places are offering a number of options, and still others simply present a __________ and let the person decide how to indicate this personal designation. Facebook tries to offer every imaginable option, now with up to seventy-one gender—um, sex—well, which is it?—opportunities for a person’s self-identity, including “asexual,” “intersex man,” “gender neutral,” “male to female transsexual woman” and—catch the difference!—“male to female transgender woman.”

While folks are busy making their “gender” reveals, others are saying that babies are assigned a sex at birth. No longer do we say of a trans woman, “She was born a male,” but, “She was assigned male at birth.” It makes sense. Naturally, I was assigned male; I had a penis. No one could know that I would have a gender identity issue and one day be transgender.

The following cartoon humorously takes this entire issue to its ludicrous conclusion. Well, wait; for we who experience the tremendously challenging and difficult disassociation of sex and gender, it’s not funny at all.

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No, I’m not jealous of you cisgender folks but, I gotta be honest, I am envious.

All of this talk has not touched on sexual orientation.  Instead of making this a long and ponderous post, the following diagram nicely and succinctly encompasses the entire conversation.  Memorize this, and you will have it!

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What I hoped to achieve by attempting suicide

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You have likely heard it said that suicide attempts are cries for help, that these people really don’t want to die but use the moment to get help, help which they otherwise could not figure out how to get, even with the availability of suicide prevention phone numbers.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, ended up dying, who never wanted to die.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, found themselves in no different a situation after the attempt, leaving them just as frustrated, leaving them just as trapped, leaving them feeling just as terrible as before.

And leaving them contemplating their next suicide attempt.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I found myself feeling the worst, I never wanted to die, but I really wanted to try to kill myself. Over and over, and over again, I had the same conversation with myself: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to “beat this thing” as I would say, whatever that would mean. And though my will to live was so strong, I could not shake the thought, even the desire, to try to kill myself.

Outside of talking with Julie, with whom I shared everything, holding back nothing that I was experiencing, I had no ability to imagine revealing my secret to anyone else. Telling my kids—are you kidding me? Telling my siblings—was that any less worse? Telling my closest friends and fellow pastors—was that not just as bad?

Trying to transition? At my age? As tall and large as I am? Having the money to do so? Becoming a laughing stock, an offense to many?

Leaving the ministry?  Leaving the work I so loved, the perfect job for me?  Leaving the people and town which Julie and I adored?  Giving up a secure income, with good benefits?

Trying to keep my mouth shut and go on as I had been? Hoping therapy would finally help me find a way to stop hating myself?

Every question came back with an answer that just plain stunk. How was I ever going to live through this?

So, what did I do?  I went about my life as if all were well.  I did my job, putting on a happy face for everyone and then, when I went home, once again fell apart.  One would have had to have been able to read minds to know that I was constantly thinking about killing myself.

That’s the way it is with those suffering suicidal ideation—they are really good at hiding it.

It was this time of year, four years ago, that I began the trek of telling my kids, and then my siblings and, as I had opportunity and need, talking with friends and professional peers. That I navigated everything and successfully transitioned, mine is a survivor’s story and, just for that, it is worth telling, because someone might read it and find the strength to take heart and move forward. Even more, I find it important to talk about why people try to kill themselves, because what I hoped to achieve by it has a common plot.

Two of every five people—41%—who are struggling with their gender identity, will try to end their lives. The reasons come from the internal struggle and the external realities. I am confident that there rarely is one thing, but a mixture of stressors—trying to accurately understand oneself, fear of rejection from family, what will happen to job and economic situation if I attempt transitioning, will I be safe, will God reject me, and more—which pile on, egging on that “just kill yourself” voice, to call more often and more clearly.

Again, we who are suffering—not only we with gender dysphoria, but anyone who is suffering terribly—don’t really want to die; we simply can’t see a way out in which we will not suffer horribly, ending up in a life which could be far worse than what we have now.

But we don’t know how to cry out, to say the words to others, and so we turn inside. Fear is mighty powerful; addressing it can be crippling.

We make a plan. We hope that, should we attempt to carry it out, we won’t die, and we won’t be permanently disabled, but we will be hurt badly enough so that when the most important people in our lives ask why we did it there will be so much concern in their words and compassion in their hearts that we will finally be able launch into our story.

I had made a plan. Whenever I thought about my plan, I wondered why it was my plan. “Just take a bunch of pills,” I would tell myself. “You’re not a violent person. It’s the only logical way to do it.” Yet, pills were too passive for me. Though I constantly rejected the notion of causing pain to myself, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

Another reason some of us attempt suicide is because we believe we deserve to be punished. We tell ourselves that we were not strong enough to get our act together. If others knew about us, that’s exactly what many of them would say. Indeed, after I undertook transitioning, I was asked: “Why didn’t you try harder to be a man?” Before I transitioned, one pastor said it straight out: “Greg, be a man.”

I was finding it impossible to satisfy either of those men, and I wanted so desperately to do so.  I was a failure.

Encapsulated in their words is another reason we attempt suicide. We are misunderstood. Many will never understand us. Many will not even try. Many will allow their prejudices and preconceived notions to speak louder than we can talk to them.

Two events in 2013 stand out as low points, when I so wanted to try to kill myself. The first occurred just before I was about to begin telling others about my gender dysphoria and that I was going to retire from the ministry. The second came in the autumn, after I had an intense week of telling key people in the ministry.

Both times, I was on county roads near Port Hope. In the first, I was heading home, just east of Filion on Filion Road. In the second, I was going south on Ruth Road, on my way to Bad Axe.

Both times, my situation had so broken me that I devolved into bitter bawling. I was driving fifty-five miles an hour, crying hard and screaming at the top of my lungs everything that I was feeling, and begging the Lord to spare me.

“Please, let me die,” was combined with, “Please, let me live.” Back and forth.

On Filion Road, a semi was heading west. “Turn into its path,” I tried to convince myself. “You have to do it now, or the opportunity will be lost.” As the truck neared the ideal spot, I knew I could not do it, because I would have put another human into harm’s way. No, if I were going to try to kill myself, I could not bring another person into it.

Four months later, as I was crying and screaming and praying down Ruth Road, I had already formed my plan. These county roads have really wide and deep ditches. I had buried two teenagers who had fatally met up with them in separate crashes, so I had experienced their power against a careening vehicle. I would release my seat belt, increase my speed, and aim myself at the ditch on my side of the road.

If it is possible to be equal parts angry that you didn’t do something and glad that you didn’t, I was that. My desire to live, to “beat this thing,” not to test the Lord that He was duty-bound to take me to heaven, not to harm Julie and my family and all who loved me, won the moment. I would drive to Bad Axe. Instead of calling on some shut-in members, I headed to Julie’s place of work. She came home with me. I resolved to quit the ministry that very day. My pastoral counselor talked me out of it. I managed to plow forward eight more months in the ministry, to tell my kids and siblings, and Julie and I figured out a path for ourselves, a path which now is in its fourth year.

I didn’t try to kill myself mostly because I didn’t want to die. I also didn’t try because I feared that I would . . .
. . . barely be hurt, but I would total my car, and the whole thing would simply be an expensive, embarrassing, impossible-to-explain mess.
. . . be hurt so badly that I would be left paralyzed. Can you imagine that, still suffering gender dysphoria and now confined to a wheelchair? I could, and it almost took away my breath.
. . . actually die. And I didn’t want to die.

But I so wanted to try to kill myself. I saw it as a way of letting the world know so that I didn’t have to find my own way to do it. I wanted sympathy, because I feared judgment. If I went public only after surviving a suicide attempt, maybe—just maybe—I would get the “Poor guy. What he must be going through” comments for which I longed, that everyone would feel sorry for me and, if I did find that I had to try transitioning, they would recognize it as the life-saving measure it would be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you know anyone who is hurting badly, please show them a gentle spirit and compassionate concern.  They might be suffering suicidal ideation.  And they might find you a safe person to whom they can open up. You might just save their life.

If you know anyone who tried to kill her- or himself and lived, please be sympathetic and kind, and do not judge them as weak. Actually making the attempt to take one’s life might be the hardest thing a person can do. How badly does a person need to be hurting, to finally take the pills, hang the noose, turn the wheel, pull the trigger?  For as badly as I suffered suicidal ideation, I still think an actual attempt was a long ways from my grasp.

If you know anyone who has succeeded at the act and is now dead, I hope you are able to mourn and grieve this horrible loss, to love those who remain, and to grow in compassion and understanding. Somewhere, someone else is having the thoughts, making the plan, and longing to try to end it all.

And hoping to live through it, so that the suicide attempt can speak for them, to be their lifeline.

Pics of my surgery

Each time I visit Dr. Gallagher, the doctor who performed my sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery, the appointment begins with her asking, “May I take a picture?”

I appreciate that she does this, and that I am now in possession of those pictures. I was glad to be able to see the healing path. And, I am pleased to be able to share these with those interested in seeing the process.

But, wait. Can’t you find online all the pictures you want? Yes, you can. I’ve searched for them. There are plenty. Over and over, I see surgical work that looks identical to what I have and, frankly, younger people who look better than I. So, why the need for me to make available my own pictures?

The answer is that mine show the work of Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher and, in the short time since she arrived in Indianapolis two years ago, interest in Dr. Gallagher has quickly taken root, blossomed, and exploded into full color. I have had several folks contact me with questions regarding her, and some of whom have followed through by inquiring of her for information.

Thus, the obvious folks who might want to see my pictures are those trans women who are contemplating the surgery, especially if they are considering Dr. Gallagher. Others having interest might be family and friends of trans folks, who seek to learn more and be compassionate, though these folks can satisfy that desire by searching the internet.

If you would like me to send you my pictures, please email me, providing a brief reason as to why you desire the pictures. For my email address, click on my photo in the upper right of the banner bar, then click on My Profile. You will find it toward the end of the About Me section.

Kevin Spacey: the neglected key point

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With all of the discussion regarding Kevin Spacey’s admittedly inappropriate, and most likely illegal behavior with a then-fourteen year old boy, something has been missed. Ignored. Totally glossed over. In the section of his response which I quote, see if you catch it.

“I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”

Did you catch it? I am referring to this word, “drunken,” as the modifier of his “deeply inappropriate behavior.”

Why has no one pointed to Spacey’s being drunk as part of his offensive actions? (If they have, I’ve not heard or read it, though, yesterday, in the second allegation against him, the man said Spacey was “falling down drunk” when he accosted him.) I know why. Since he wasn’t behind the wheel of an automobile, his being drunk was not illegal, therefore, because drunkenness is so accepted, it is not, in itself, considered inappropriate or immoral.

When was the last time you heard someone lament, “I did regrettable things because I was sober. I was able to think clearly, and that clouded my judgment. Oh, why, why did I remain sober?!”

Now that we know Spacey’s sexual preference, do we know whether he has desires for underage guys? I don’t think it can be assumed that he is prone to pedophilia (unless a report has come out since I wrote this).  As terrible as that criminal behavior is, it’s not the focus of this essay. What we do know is this, that when drunk he’s prone to doing awful things, even perhaps acting out on desires that he would otherwise be able to keep corralled.

Gosh. What a shock. Drunkenness causing someone to do something awful, or just plain stupid.

They don’t call it “liquid courage” for nothing.

I hate being around drunks. They talk and act like idiots. They make me feel uncomfortable.

I’ve heard plenty of drunk guys walking around to every other guy and proclaiming, “I love you, man.” I know, that’s an old joke. It’s an old joke, because it’s true, but it’s not funny.

One of the low points of my ministry came after a sermon in which I spoke very sternly about the widespread abuse of alcohol among many in our congregation, and that my concern was amplified because it seemed that many did not take it seriously, as if their drunkenness were perfectly okay. (The Holy Bible: drunkenness is a sin.) The low point came a few days later, when I saw a church member—a prominent member of the community and a known over-imbiber. He said, “Pastor, why don’t you lay off talking about people getting drunk. We’re not going to change.”

When I arrived at my first church out of seminary, I was surprised to learn that a woman, who had six children, one of which was still school-aged, was a widow. I was curious how her husband had died. Soon, I had a chat with her and asked. She said, “It was New Year’s Eve. He was at the club. Driving home drunk, he wrapped his car around a tree.”

You can tell your own horror stories of families ripped apart in this way, and of innocent loved ones killed by drunken drivers.

Bad behavior begets more bad behavior. When are we going to realize this?

In the same congregation, I noted that soon after my arrival one of the church’s prominent men was absent for several weeks, while his wife was in worship. Being the new minister and not yet knowing these folks, I didn’t want to pry. Soon, I knew them well, and soon after that he ‘fessed up. The weekend that I was installed as pastor, he had gotten arrested for drunk driving. It was not his first arrest. His punishment was weekends in jail for a month.

Oh, about his wife. She was blind, the result of juvenile diabetes. While she was an amazingly capable person, she relied heavily on her husband. What if he had crashed his car, and taken lives and landed in prison? What if he had killed himself? Not only was his behavior—what was Spacey’s phrase? Oh, yeah—“deeply inappropriate,” it was illegal against his fellow citizens whom he might have harmed, and it was sinful against his wife.

As a pastor, on two occasions I officiated the funerals of men, one in his forties and one in his fifties, who drank themselves into their graves. Both had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Their family and friends lamented their deaths, yet I never heard anyone proclaiming that they needed to mind their alcohol usage, lest they wind up committing suicide-by-too-many-cases-of-beer.

How much harmful, wrong, offensive, illegal, behavior would never occur if people did not abuse alcohol?

I like alcohol. I often have a beer when we go out to eat, and wine with a festive meal. I am not anti-drinking. Alcohol is not problem.

Alcohol is not the problem; abusing it is the problem.

Alcohol is not the problem; not acting like responsible adults is the problem.

Such a small thing it is, for a person to say, “Okay, I’m feeling the alcohol. It’s time to cut it off.” Why is that so hard, even seemingly impossible, for so many otherwise smart people?

Because of the attitude of the people of our culture, there is nothing about the Kevin Spacey revelation that surprises me. Troubles me? Indeed. But of no surprise.

Neither am I surprised that no one has picked up on “drunken” as an important aspect of his “deeply inappropriate behavior.”

It turns out that Spacey was living in his own house of cards, which was waiting for thirty years to finally come tumbling down. I always enjoyed the man for his many talents, but I have no admiration for him as a human being.

I am left wondering one thing, which I’d love to ask him: Hey, Kevin, did you catch that word, “drunken,” as key to your “deeply inappropriate behavior”?