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.

Advertisements

SRS: six months post-op

InkedPDF-april-2017-printable-calendar

October 11 marks six months since I underwent sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery. After posting a few times soon after surgery, I waited for the six month mark to write again in the hopes that I would be fully healed, or nearly completely so.

I am pleased to report that I have, indeed, met this goal.

I feel good. I have no pain, whatsoever. As I sit, typing at my computer, I am completely comfortable. If I did not know I had surgery, I, um, would not know I had surgery.

As I healed, sitting up, pain free, on hard chairs and in the car took the longest to come around. Sitting up puts all of one’s weight right smack where I was healing, and it was not until I was essentially fully healed that I could sit for long periods.

Two events speak best to this. The beginning of August, nearly four months post-op, I drove home to West Michigan, a nearly five hour trip. I handled it well until the last twenty miles, when I got uncomfortable. Then, I sat far too much as I visited friends. I was in a lot of pain. I had to take great care on my return trip, which, surprisingly and thankfully, went okay. Only a month later, almost five months post-op, Julie and I went to Iowa, which, with a few stops mixed in, takes eleven hours. To my joy-filled amazement, I experienced no pain, not a bit of discomfort. What a difference that month made in finishing up my healing.

Even more important than being pain-free is that this surgery feels correct for me. Whether looking at myself or pondering the new configuration of my genitals, I have a good reaction. And, because of Dr. Gallagher’s supreme skills, not only does the surgery area look nice, it is virtually indistinguishable from a genetic female’s.  Even more, everything functions properly.

When one makes a decision about a life-changing thing, the hope is for the outcome to match the desire. This surgery was long-coming for me, and I had hoped I was reading myself correctly in opting for it, yet I could never know how I would react to it until I actually lived it.

I’ve previously written that my immediate reaction was, “What have I done to myself?” This was more a response to the intense pain, mixed with the knowledge that I faced a long recovery, as it was to the fact of what the surgery did in changing me. My spirits were buoyed when Dr. G said that every one of her patients has experienced this reaction. Whew.

I have, however, experienced times of regret. Mostly, the lament has been that I never will be able to be the husband whom Julie deserves in me, whom I always wanted to be. I’ve had to remind myself that it wasn’t like I had ever been that man, that romance always was problematic for me, that I experienced terrible negatives in what should have been a union of only positives with my wife.

So, here I am, six months down a road I never dreamed I would travel, and I feel good. I feel right. I am pleased to have had the surgery. Everything is healing perfectly. Despite the difficulties I had—especially the shooting nerve pain and pesky pelvic muscles not liking me dilating—I jumped those short-term hurdles.

I continue to be amazed and dumbfounded that this is a reality. This is something I always wanted, yet never wanted to have to come to pass; that I dreamed about, yet could never imagine.

I continue to move forward.  The Lord blesses me physically and spiritually.  I rejoice in His gifts of creation and salvation, which I possess both now and forever.

One month post-op; the hellish parts

sisyphuslogolg_zpsx7twgjau
Now I know why this sign was posted at the door of my hospital room!

May 11 means that I am one month post-op from my sex reassignment surgery (SRS). I am pleased to report that, at my second post-op appointment last week, Dr. Gallagher pronounced me to be healing nicely, with everything in order.

I am thankful for that! Yet, even as things are progressing as they should, and I am slowly and gradually feeling better, there are a few areas which have been tremendously challenging. I share these for two reasons, both in my ongoing desire to educate about that with which we transgender folks have to grapple and because I am getting feedback from trans women who have either also had SRS or, especially, those who are contemplating it or have it in their near future.

From least to worst, here are three areas which have plagued me.

The nerve!

To perform SRS, the surgeon has the patient’s feet in stirrups. While the stirrups are padded, and the surgery team keeps close watch over every inch of the patient, that the surgery takes at least six hours creates a troubling situation for the feet.

I awoke from surgery, immediately noting the tremendous pain in my left heel. The next day, Wednesday, the pain eased. On Thursday, I was out of bed and walking—and noticing that my left foot was almost entirely numb, with the numbness climbing my leg halfway to my knee. My right foot and leg were okay.

Touching my foot, I found it tremendously sensitive. Speaking with Dr. Gallagher about it, she explained that the condition—neuropathy—is a sometimes unhappy result of the feet so long in the stirrups. She said it almost always resolves itself in several weeks, with no treatment. If needed, there is a drug to help it, but the drug causes extreme drowsiness. I have opted, so far, to forego the drug.

Here’s the tough part. The nerves are waking up—yay!—but, where the problem is centered at the top of my foot I am being jabbed with intense pain. Not all the time, mind you. It comes and goes. But, when it comes, wow, it has at times been so severe that it has left me in tears.

It appears I am through the worst of that. The past few days, the jabs have been fewer and not so intense. At the touch, my leg and instep now have feeling. The neuropathy has not impeded me—it has not stopped me from my walking!—but, all should be aware that this is a real, ornery complication of SRS.

Take that! And that!

Not surprisingly, my entire bottom was numb after surgery. And swelled. Oh, boy, was I swelled. And I still am. As Dr. G said last week, the swelling has come down a lot, but it still has a ways to go.

I suspect that you can easily picture two rows of stitches running down either side of my urethra and neo vagina, a few inches long. At the bottom of them, the nerves have been playing a game of “I can jab you worse than your foot could ever do it!”

Before seeing Dr. G last week, I researched this to be sure it was typical. Yup. Totally. Dr. G confirmed it. Well, kids, typical does not lessen the pain. And, oh me oh my, but when I had the worst of these jabs they accompanied the ones in my foot . . . the evening of my birthday.

Happy—JAB—birthday—STAB—Gina—ELECTRIC JOLT.

Blow out your cake’s candles if you can catch your breath!

With each stab, my body shook. With the worst jabs, I cried out in pain.

Then I was bawling.

I got up and walked around, trying anything to ease the pain and distract my mind.  Poor Julie was so concerned, longing to help. We rode it out. Finally, both areas eased up by the time I wanted to go to sleep. That was eleven days ago. Almost every day, I notice that the jabs are less stabby, and the stabs are less jabby, and I am hopeful that this phase will soon be completed.

My song is out of hormone-y

My poor body has gone through way more than ever in its sixty years. Starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) nearly four years ago, I sought to bring my brain and body into harmony. As my testosterone lowered and my estrogen increased, the gender dysphoria-induced fire in my brain was largely doused. I just plain felt better.

I had my share of ups and downs, and keeping my hormones at good levels proved a challenge until about a year ago. Then, in a bit of news that almost made me want to halt having SRS, I was told that I had to stop taking my HRT a month before surgery. Why? Estrogen makes one prone to blood clots, and surgery in one’s mid-section does the same. To go off HRT would drop my estrogen to a safer level, but it also would allow my testosterone to return to that of a male.

I truly thought I would suffer a meltdown in the final days before surgery, as I would be fighting off the discord that had made me suicidal in 2013. That no meltdown arose was nothing short of amazing. Yes, a week-and-a-half before surgery I felt my hormones shift, even experiencing testosterone’s physical affects, but I remained at peace with myself.

On April 11, I faced the greatest shift of my life in my hormone production. My testosterone factory was about to be dismantled.

The testicles are the main testosterone producers, yet both sexes make a bit of the male sex hormone in the adrenal glands (that’s why genetic females also have a small amount of testosterone). By late afternoon on April 11, my testicles were gone. My predominant testosterone production immediately and abruptly ceased.

A few trans women, who have had the surgery, warned me that I might experience any number of emotions because of this. I’ll say.

It took a week, and then it hit me. It nailed me, well, like those jabs and stabs in my foot and mid-section.

I found myself feeling completely asexual. Neither female nor male. The sexual equivalent of eating food but unable to taste it.

My outlook on life turned bland.

I tried thinking about dressing nicely, in a skirt and heels. No reaction. I thought about dressing in a guy’s tie and sport coat. No reaction.

I thought about some shirts and jeans that I have, that either a gal or guy could wear. That sounded good to me.

And it scared me.

I tried to see myself detransitioning. I WANTED to see myself resuming my life as a male. And the weight of that came tumbling down upon me like that rock that Sisyphus never could get over the top.

I have cried many times in these days.

Despite this, I have not regretted having had SRS. Even more, I continue to feel strongly that I needed it. My body feels correct. It looks right to me.

I have had to talk with myself in a logical manner, just as with the jabs and stabs, that I am far from healed, but I am healing. My hormones will get back into order. I have every reason to believe that when they do I will feel as good as I did before my pre-surgery stopping of HRT.  Indeed, I have sensed things easing this week.

This situation, as when my son died and my wife divorced me, are important teachers that one shall never say, “I know what you’re going through.” Even if you buried a loved one or lost a marriage, and even if you had the same surgery, your experience is your experience, and mine is mine, and the acts of observing others or having them explain how hard something is does not begin to approach the experiencing of it.  Respect others for their burdens; don’t dismiss them with comments which only serve to offend.

This has been a mighty tough period. I am tremendously happy to have one month under my belt. Each of the three troubles of which I have written are way less than they were. I can now picture the day when I am fully healed.

Thankfully, I have gotten through each day, each terrible moment, in the strength of the Lord, to whom I turn in prayer innumerable times every day.  He is always faithful to His promises to uphold me with His righteous right hand.

And, thankfully, I always have my Julie. She is my little Jesus, whose devotion toward me never ceases.

This is not a surgery through which one should try to go it alone.

First post-op check-up

This post is only for those who are okay reading specifics about sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and recuperating from it. I have written in detail because there are some who have expressed a desire to learn, and I have some readers who are contemplating the surgery. If you do not want details, check this out: http://foundmagazine.com/

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

IMG_20170419_162037137
You recognize Julie, to my right, and to my left is my super-surgeon, Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher.

My first visit to Dr. Gallagher was on Wednesday, April 19, eight days after my surgery. Of all of the items on my checklist, 90% came back positive. And the 10% negative? The one item that makes up that amount could be better, but is not bad.

Well, wait. There were two negatives, but one of them was only momentary. It was the removal of the catheter. As Dr. G gently pulled it through my urethra, the pain was hot and heavy. I told her and Julie that it felt like I was peeing a fire hose’s worth of water through that tiny channel.

I shrieked pretty loudly. I had to breathe hard as I recovered. Julie held my head and stroked it. Dr. G went for a cup of water. It took a few minutes for me to calm down. If I ever have to have a catheter again . . .

That negative done with, the one that I count as the 10% is the amount of swelling and bruising to the wound area. I asked how bad. Dr. G put it in the 70th percentile. Even with that, she expressed no concern. Though I look pretty rough, there is nothing unusual.

Onto the good stuff.

As I previously reported, my excellent health was an item on which several folks commented before and after surgery. At my post-op appointment, Dr. G remarked that not only am I in tremendously good physical condition for someone turning SIXTY, most of her patients are under FIFTY and are not in such good shape. Few go home after the minimum number of days—three—yet I did.

Can you see me beaming?

Before I was released from the hospital last Friday, Dr. G gave us her cell number and encouraged us to call if need be. I now asked her if she had been expecting to get a call from me. She said that of the nearly ten SRS she has performed, I am the first not to call her at least once. Yes, more beaming.

I told Dr. G that I had not been ready to look down there. I was pleased when she took the lead. “Lots of girls feel that way. Most of them tell me that in the first few days they asked themselves, ‘What did I do to myself?’” I replied that I had asked myself the same thing, and that it was primarily motivated by how lousy I felt and how long is the recovery road.

Using an implement, she touched me in a few spots. I did not feel the first two, and felt the third. She said that my amount of numbness is common. She cleaned me up a bit—I bleed at least a little, most of the time—and the next order of business arrived.

IMG_20170420_152737044
My new companions.

She took out a set of dilators. I was terribly skittish to begin this process, having no idea how it would feel. Would it hurt at first? If so, how badly? For sixty years, I did not have a vagina, and now I had to learn how to slide a hard plastic rod into it as deeply as possible, holding it in place for fifteen minutes, and do that five times a day for now.

I wanted to watch, so Dr. G retrieved a small mirror. Truly, I was not so sure I was going to be able to look down there—and, ugh, I am as black and blue as anything I have ever seen—but I found myself doing well with it. Besides, I needed to see this process so that I could do it myself.

Thankfully, her effort to insert the dilator went smoothly. After getting it four inches in, she was able to achieve one more, for a total of five inches of depth. That is good depth for post-surgery/pre-dilating. After surgery, she had told Julie she had plenty of material to work with in forming my new genitals.

Dr. G removed the dilator. It was my turn. Julie held the mirror as I went to work. The first trick was to get the correct angle. After that, I found the dilator to insert fairly smoothly. Eventually, I slid it in the full five inches.

Apparently, this went very well, so it prompted Dr. G to suggest trying the next larger size. I was reluctant, but did it. It went in harder, and I felt it a lot more. I only got it in a few inches. Dilating at home, I am sticking with the smallest size for now.

We had a number of questions for her.

  • When may I drive? I may drive when I feel ready. Now is okay if it feels okay.
  • How about mowing and gardening? I can do these as it feels okay, taking care to mind my body, not to overdo it.
  • Walking? The same goes for how much walking I do.
  • Do I have to keep sleeping on my back? Nope. I can sleep as it is comfortable.
  • How about sitting on the inflated ring? Use it if I need it, but I don’t need to.

I ditched the ring.

IMG_20170421_061215212.jpg
Truth be told, I staged this picture.  Old ringy sits on a shelf, just in case.

Last evening, Julie and I went for a walk. Without the catheter, I could walk way faster than I was! I’ve stretched out my walks to three tenths of a mile. As feels okay, I will keep adding to it, and try to walk four or five times a day, as I have been.

I cannot imagine mowing or gardening right now. I suspect those are a week or two off.

Because my mid section is so swollen and black and blue, lying on my side is not very comfortable. When I do it, I put a pillow between my legs, at my knees. As for lying on my stomach? I don’t think so—and that’s always my first position, when I go to bed. I am pleased to report that every night I have gotten into bed, onto my back, and have not had trouble falling asleep. Whew.

As I complete this post Thursday afternoon, I have had three dilation sessions at home. Last evening, Julie was here to help, and I needed her help. It went well. This morning, I attempted it by myself, mirror in my right hand and dilator in my left. After a couple of attempts, I got the dilator in to four inches. Later in the morning, after five attempts I gave up, only being able to insert the dilator about an inch. No matter how I relaxed, shifted my body, and adjusted the dilator, it was no use. It is now time to go give it one more try before Julie gets home from work.

Finally, I am peeing on my own! After she removed the catheter, I asked Dr. G if I should be concerned about not being able to pee (though, typically, folks report the opposite, not being able to control their bladder) and, if I can’t produce, how is it treated. She said not to be concerned. Continuing, she revealed, “If you can’t pee, a smaller catheter is inserted.”

I became one highly motivated pee-er!

Last evening, as the feeling of fullness grew, I sat on the toilet. Nothing happened. By bedtime, I was trying not to freak out, still not having produced. I went to bed.

I awoke at midnight, really feeling the urge. Gently placing myself on the toilet, within seconds I felt the warm flow releasing itself. I cried tears of joy and relief.

I am pleased to report that, looking at my new anatomy, it is what I was hoping it would be.  This feels correct on me, where male genitals did not.  I will be grateful for full physical healing as I am very happy that the emotional healing is well under way.

Now, where’s that orange dilator . . .

SRS post-op-servations

I wasn’t nervous. Talking with me, one might have thought it was just another morning.

I enjoyed a marvelous peace in the days leading up to surgery. I never came close to a meltdown, and one was virtually expected as every major transitioning step had brought one. A few days before surgery, Julie said that she had been waiting for it. The only thing I experienced came a week-and-a-half before surgery, when for half a day I felt pulled apart. That arrived soon after I sensed my hormones shifting. Even as my testosterone had risen, causing me extreme physical discomfort, it still did not affect my mental and emotional stability. That it did not was, in a word, astonishing. I have thanked the Lord innumerable times for this.

17861746_10154542922343494_3849256545993276231_n
Waiting to be taken into surgery.

The morning of the surgery, I remained at peace. I did not even have the kind of nerves one gets when highly excited about something—and I had a bit of that the morning of my January vocal cord surgery. I was as calm and collected as can be. My blood pressure even reflected it, sitting right on what is normal for me. You could have knocked me over with an IV bag.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The operation lasted something over six hours. One can easily imagine that it is a serious surgery. The area in question, the amount of restructuring, and the possible complications all play together to put this near the top of serious scale.

Dr. Gallagher has quickly gained a reputation as a skilled surgeon. Before surgery, and especially after, those on the surgery team raved about her work. One scrub nurse, who paid us two lovely visits afterward, marveled at the quality of Dr. Gallagher’s talent.

Indeed, I suspect her fine work is why I have experienced very little bleeding post-surgery, and why things progressed perfectly in the three days from surgery to dismissal, so that I had the shortest possible hospital stay. My thankfulness is through the roof.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Coming out of sedation was crazy hard and very weird. I spoke to Julie about it as soon as I could, so that I might retain some memory of it. That I can write the following is only because I told Julie; otherwise, it has been wiped from my memory.

Waking up from surgery was as if I were at the same time trying to break through a door which was impossible to open, as if I were busting apart the most infuriatingly intertwined vines, as if I were doing this while standing in thick mud, as if dozens of hands were pawing at me, and as if something were trying to suck me away from my task.

I came out of anesthesia only very briefly. After I awoke a second time, the nurse told me that I had been crying when I came out of it the first time. I know that I was talking, and I even remember thinking at the time that I wanted to be logical in what I was saying so that I might be taken seriously. What did I say? Sadly, that is lost.

When I awoke a second time, I asked for Julie. When I told her what had happened, she said, “It’s no wonder what you experienced. It sounds like the summation of your entire life. Trying to break through. The total frustration you experienced. The many ways things held you back.”

I find it impossible to disagree with her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As I write this on Saturday and Easter Sunday, four and five days after my surgery, I am pleased to report that nothing unusual has transpired. This easily is the biggest surgery I have experienced. When I say that I am doing well, it means that everything is as it should be, and as expected. But, wow, I sure have not felt good!

17903948_10154550306393494_711640352126452014_n
The hall felt long on Thursday, when I first was allowed to walk.  It felt great to be on my feet, even as it hurt like crazy.

My constant discomfort is only very gradually easing.  This begs the question: how much should doctors, or those who have gone through the surgery, discuss the pure misery which is the recovery period, what one experiences in her body, how it can deeply impact one’s emotions, how this is just plain hard in every way?  On the one hand, a person doesn’t want to keep from something so important to her because of some very challenging days or weeks—goodness, no one would take on any of life’s huge challenges, like having a baby, or getting a college degree, or marriage—yet, one should never enter into things like this with any naivete, whatsoever.  I was not naive, yet no one could have adequately explained what I have been experiencing.

My bodily functions have been completely out of whack. The bloating, which continued for three days, was easily the worst, most painful which has ever plagued me. I could feel hungry one moment, and the next moment nothing sounded good. Thankfully, I was able to consume a decent amount of calories, and have gotten back to eating at my regular breakfast, lunch, and supper times. Since Saturday afternoon, the bloating has ceased.

Saturday afternoon, I was unable to nap.  I felt crappy in every way.  Recovery felt like a road that wound around the world a dozen times.  Lying on the couch, I cried.  Hard.  It took more than an hour to come around.  When I did, Julie was, as always, there for me. I poured out my heart to her.

Julie’s marvelous love for me is on constant display. She hesitates at nothing on my behalf. Jumping into nursing duties has come naturally for her. When my dressing needs changing, she’s on the task like a seasoned veteran. My love for her continues to grow to a level I never knew possible.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I have always been an emotional person. That has intensified the past four years. I thought there was a high chance that when I came out of anesthesia I would cry profoundly from a sense of relief and joy that I finally had completed the surgery which I never could have imagined for myself.

I did not cry. I did not experience anything profound. I have remained very even keel. I think I know why.

A year ago, when I got my name changed, I did not walk out of the courthouse bouncing with joy. It was a relief to have it done, but I had wished I had not needed to come to changing my name. When I left the courthouse, a lot of work remained regarding my name—every place my name exists, from drivers license, to credit cards, to you name it, had to be changed—so instead of having accomplished something it was more like I was only beginning something.

That’s how I have been feeling, post-surgery. My recovery is so long, and so intense, I cannot yet experience it with joy. As I did after vocal cord surgery, I have asked myself, “What did you do to yourself?” because the road to recovery is so steep and long.

I am confident the joy will come—it did with my name change, and with every other step in transitioning—but it is many days to weeks off.

I am thankful for the gift of patience, even as I have fallen into tears a few times because of the general misery which is my existence right now.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wednesday brings the next step.

Surely, it will come as no surprise that a Foley catheter was inserted, a first for me. On Wednesday, that will come out. Because there is a lot of swelling, and the swelling will take months to reduce, I am told that urinating will be an adventure. Woo hoo!

Read the next paragraph only if you are okay with learning a bit more specific info. If not, skip to the paragraph following.

After Dr. Gallagher created my neo-vagina, she packed it. On Wednesday, she will unpack it. She will teach me how to dilate. Dilation’s purpose is to gradually increase the width and depth of the neo-vagina. Dilation will be a rigorous exercise at first. The size of the dilators increase over time. Eventually, the need to dilate will level off and be required less frequently, but will need to continue to keep the skin healthy. Though she said it will not be painful, dilating will be uncomfortable. I cannot say that I am excited at the prospect of it, but I knew what I was getting myself into.

Assuming I get a good report, which is what I expect at this point, it will only be a few days after Wednesday that I will be permitted to drive. I will remain on low-impact activity for four weeks. (Julie has already mowed the lawn.) By the first week of May, I hope to feel good enough and to be allowed to get out and walk as fast and as far as feels okay, and want that to also mean I can mow and work at the garden as feels okay to do. Dr. Gallagher has told me that I might be jogging again at the six week mark. That is my goal.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am not a worrier, and am thankful to be a logical person. Even so, two complications were very real possibilities for me during or after surgery: infection and blood clots. I ran a low grade fever for a few days, but it never became a concern. My temp has been good the past few days. I remain on an antibiotic for a few more days. Infections can rear their ugly heads at any time, but my confidence is good that one will not bring me down.

Blood clots can be peskier. Two years ago, they nearly took the lives of my son and my sister. In the hospital, I had compression sleeves on my calves. They felt like blood pressure cuffs. Every minute, one calf, then the other, were constricted and eased. Since I was allowed to walk on Friday, I have gotten up and out many times, at least every few hours. I don’t go far—and I wonder what our neighbors are thinking about my short jaunts at such a slow pace, especially when they’ve always seen me as the runner!—but the regular movement is vital to keeping any blood clot from forming.

17903487_10154557359253494_6770252773161868037_n
The weather has cooperated wonderfully, helping me to want to get up, get out, and get walking the street in front of our house.

Finally, the thing that I loved hearing the most, both before and after surgery, from both nurses and doctors, was that I am a very healthy person. Though I carry too many pounds, Dr. Gallagher said that she found me very physically fit. I beamed each time someone took note of my good health! Taking care of myself is paying off big time as I move through recovery.

I am quickly approaching sixty years of age. Bring it on! I intend to grow into a fine specimen of an old person!

“How can you?!”

“How can you mutilate yourself like that?”

I’ve not been asked that a lot, but I’ve been asked. It has always come from a person who rejects a person’s transitioning. And, it seems, it comes from those who do not agree that gender dysphoria is the product of a physical situation, but they believe it is strictly a mental illness.

When a person sees my situation as those just described, I understand how they find sex reassignment surgery (SRS) to be mutilation. Because some do—because many who do are my Christian brothers and sisters for whom I have especial concern as it is my Christian duty to live an ethical life by the Word of God—it is my job to explain things fully.

Please know how seriously I have undertaken the path to SRS, to each surgery—the one I have had (vocal cords), and the one I intend to have later this year (facial feminization)—and to the entirety of transitioning—going on hormone replacement therapy, getting my name legally changed, and living full time as a female.

On Tuesday, I saw on my blog that there had been new clicks from a Lutheran website. I clicked the link, taking me back to one of the many posts from last September, when my fellow Missouri Synod Lutherans got wind of me. I could not read a lot; it hurt too much. I saw gender dysphoria placed in quotes as if it’s not a real thing. I easily remembered the ways in which folks made fun of me and condemned me.

The saddest thing that has happened since I went public, which was twenty-three months ago, has been those who either have not listened to me, or put up a wall and shut me out, or simply dismissed me as a sinner, a nut, you name it, and walked away.

Can you imagine anyone, who is on the autism spectrum, being treated in the manner I have? I chose autism because, as with gender dysphoria, its origins are mystical and it profoundly affects the person who has it.

Ah, but there is a vital difference between autism and gender dysphoria: the transgression of the sexes.

For many—especially for traditional Christians, which I am, and which my fellow LCMSers are—when it comes to the sexes, and to anything that has to do with sex, everything is black and white. They quote Scripture, that God made us male and female (yes, He did), as if that is the final word on the subject, as if Original Sin had not worked every sort of variation to our bodies.

And those variations include disruption to the sexes. To those who have sex traits of both male and female. To those whose bodies are one sex and chromosomes are the other. To those whose genitals are ambiguous, or are seen at birth as one sex but actually belong to the other. To those whose sex hormones, when at levels which match their genitals, adversely affect the person, but when hormone therapy is applied, and the sex hormones are reversed, relief is experienced. To other variations off of these variations.

These experiences are just as real as anything on earth—as real as the lunch you eat and the air you breath, and as real as the conditions and diseases and illnesses which are common to us, which no one bemoans a person’s treating them.

Ah, but not to the sexes! Nope. When it comes to the sexes, fingers go into ears and that noise is made—“La la la! La la la!”—so that the person cannot hear you. You are suffering as difficult a thing as there is on earth—to have your sex and gender, your body and brain, not match, and many will not hear you, will reject you, will condemn you, will walk away from you—is something that no one should wish on his worst enemy.

Is it any wonder that the suicide attempt rate among trans folks is 41%? It’s hard enough dealing with this thing which rips us apart from the core of our being. It is profoundly compounded when others will not open their hearts to pay attention to what we are saying.

Pressure from the inside. Pressure from the outside. Is it any wonder that so many of us crack? Explode? Try to find a way out?

I wish I did not feel so strongly that I need to have my genitals changed. I tried so hard to be the good little boy that so many wanted me to be. I went back to it, again and again and again, trying to do what everyone else wanted from me—from everyone who had no idea what I was suffering but who were positive that transitioning was wrong.

I hated myself so much, found myself such a weakling, ripped myself to shreds because I could not get my act together in the manner that the rest of my world wanted from me.

I have prayed to the Lord so much about this, literally thousands of times. He blessed me through my male body to father five children. I thank Him for the gifts of my children, that I am their father, and for the many good things of my life which could only be because I was a male.

I do not want the Lord to reject me, to find me ungrateful for the gifts He has lavished upon me. I trust that He does not, that all of His promises remain mine, because He continually lifts me up in faith toward Him.

It is a terrible thing to hate one’s body, to find it the wrong body. This should never be. No one should have to suffer any ailment—it doesn’t matter if it has tangible, physical roots or the harder-to-pin-down mental origin—but this is our world. It’s a fallen world, and no one gets to escape it.

Back to mutilation. When I was a pastor, at one of our conventions a missionary spoke to us about conditions where he was working in some far off land, the name of which escapes my memory. He told us of how the Christians were treated. Abused. And, yes, mutilated.

He put onto the big screen some pictures of children whose hands were cut off.

My head jerked away in horror.

I forced myself to look at each pictures. Tears showed on my face as anger grew in my heart.

These were eight- and ten-year-olds who had been taught a lesson, the pastor explained. They had misbehaved. They were Christians and those in charge were not.

unnamed
The pictures of the boys showed both arms, both hands cut off, and with the boys smiling for the camera.

Somehow, these kids had smiles on their faces, even as their arms ended in stumps.

That, my friends, is mutilation. It is terrible. It should be done to no one. It should be done by no one.

Yes, my male genitals are going to be deconstructed, but they will not be left in a state of mutilation. Dr. Gallagher will use my flesh to create female genitals. She will craft them as a potter uses clay, to fashion them into something beautiful.

She showed me pictures of her work. I will look as if I had been born with female anatomy. I will be provided with proper function.

So, mutilation? No. I will not be left with unworking parts, but correcting the parts which were not working for me, which I could no longer use in the intended manner, which I never was able to properly appreciate because I could not embrace my being a male.

My faith-walk during this has informed me that the Lord is blessing me with earthly healing, just as any person uses medical science. My faith-walk continues to inform me that, in a perfect world, I would have been a male who was content with himself, and that in the resurrection of the flesh on the Last Day I will be.

I rejoice in the hope of that day. Until then, I will continue to make my way in humility, leaning on my Lord Jesus for the strength that only He can provide, and appreciating the ways in which I have been able to find wholeness of being so that I am no longer being torn apart, or tearing myself apart.

Psalm 34:1-6:
I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

Sex reassignment date set

In forty-three days, I will have sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

Last Friday, I met with my SRS surgeon, Dr. Sidhbh (rhymes with “five”) Gallagher, hoping to determine that I am ready for surgery. Four days before that, last Monday, I met with a doctor to determine whether I am a candidate for surgery on my vocal cords, to raise the pitch of my voice.

57934
Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher

When we moved to Indianapolis, and if I were to make the decision to transition, I never dreamed that I would be able to do everything right here. After Julie got her job and I knew what insurance would cover, I was positive that I would have to go to Ann Arbor, to the University of Michigan hospital, for SRS, the closest in our insurance network. A year after we moved to Indy, to my wonderful surprise IU Health announced that they were bringing on a surgeon for SRS. Dr. Gallagher began working over a year ago.

And when I learned that vocal cord surgery is now a viable option for raising the pitch of the voice, I thought the odds of finding a surgeon in town were slimmer than our getting an SRS surgeon. Well, shut my mouth, but The Voice Clinic of Indiana, on Indy’s north side, in Carmel, has a surgeon experienced in this procedure.

Assuming I get insurance approval on everything I desire—I am awaiting word for my facial surgery—I will not have to leave Indy to transition. Color me dazzlingly delighted!

Sex reassignment surgery

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This section contains sensitive information.  If you don’t want details about SRS, please skip to the next section where I talk about the vocal cord surgery.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Julie and I had my initial consultation with Dr. Gallagher last March. Dr. G thoroughly went over the surgery. Since my penis and scrotum will be used to construct the female genitals, my “homework” was to get the hair removed from my genitals, as that skin will go from being on the outside to the inside.

My weekly visits to Barb the Impaler now ignored working on removing my facial hair, to focusing on my genitals. Since last spring, she has worked 27 pain-inducing hours in the area. Dr. G had given me a diagram, showing what to remove and, by mid-November, Barb felt she had accomplished that, so I went to my appointment on Friday hoping for good news from the doctor.

2016-03-01 13.32.48
Last March, Barb “The Impaler” Clayton and I celebrate my article arriving in Indianapolis Monthly.

I was prepared for the worst, which would have been, “You’re making progress, but this area and right here need more work,” but almost immediately into the exam Dr. G said, “You’re looking really good, Gina.” That prompted me to ask, “Good enough?” When she replied in the affirmative, I asked about hairs that might still grow; indeed, some have popped up in the three weeks since I last had Barb work down there.

Dr. G said she scrapes whatever remaining follicles she finds and, with that, answered a big question Barb and I had. (Another question was whether the live follicles are easy to spot from the back of the skin. Dr. G said they are, and that the ones that have been removed leave no mark—no hole or scarring—and that only smooth skin appears underneath, just as on the outside. Oh, the things I am learning!)

Barb had told me that a client of hers said that Dr. G scrapes the back of the skin, to remove hair, the impression being that a person need not have any at all cleared before surgery. Of course, in my consultation last March, Dr. G had told me exactly the opposite. So, I had been very curious to find out the truth.

Dr. G’s answer was that, no, she will not accept a person’s not having had the majority of the hair removed, as it is way too much work for her to remove that many follicles. The opposite would be if she did no scraping at all—which was my concern—meaning that a person had to be sure all of the hairs have been completely removed or risk having post-surgical ingrown hairs. I was so hoping her answer would be exactly as it was that I exclaimed, “I wish I would have bet a large sum of money on this!”

With that, my next question was natural: “May we set a surgery date?” “Yeah. Sure,” she almost-too-casually replied, in that lovely, Irish accent of hers.

Her earliest available date was January 24. I snatched it up. I am now counting down the days.

Vocal cord surgery

At the voice clinic, Julie and I met with Dr. Noah Parker. After a bit of getting-to-know-you, in which we immediately found Dr. Parker to have a good bedside manner, he did some tests. First up, placing a stethoscope-type thing on my neck he measured my pitch.

maxresdefault
Dr. Noah Parker, next to the machinery he used to test me.

My voice vibrated 115 times per second, which is right on the average for males. Since Julie was in attendance, the doctor checked hers. She clocked in at 246, near the top of the typical 200-250 for females. Neither pitch was a surprise.

Next came a scope down my throat, to look at my vocal cords. He numbed my throat with a spray, then proceeded to run a laryngoscope down my throat. He hit the top of my throat, causing me to gag, and removed the scope. Two more tries, and each time hitting the top of my throat I gagged. He said this was not uncommon, so he ditched that method and went for the nose scope.

Now, there’s a unique/creepy sensation that I’d never before experienced, feeling that scope go through my nose and into my throat. (A year ago, when a laser was used to repair my torn retina, I experience another weird feeling, one of intense pressure on the eye, which I had to strain to keep open during the procedure.) Thankfully, the scope went down and back up pretty quickly. Even more thankfully, when he showed us my vocal cords, he pronounced them perfectly healthy.

I am a candidate for surgery.

Dr. Parker makes no guarantees how high my pitch will be after surgery. I spoke for him in the higher-pitched voice I can do on my own (but have not been able to do it for long, so I gave up trying). He measured my pitch. 180. He said that if surgery can get me to 180–200, and with some voice therapy, I should have a voice which fits my presentation as a female. I am very eager and excited at the prospect.

Reflections

A question I will not presume to answer now, but know it will arise, is whether I will have a really hard time in the days leading up to each surgery, as I did before getting my name changed. While I am very pleased to have my new legal name and female sex marker, as I have been thankful for each accomplishment I have had over the course of transitioning, no big change has come without deep introspection and prayer, and great emotional suffering.

2016-05-12 17.36.15
My driver’s license after getting my name change.  The “F” is hiding above my thumb, lower right

Just because transitioning is working for me does not mean that it doesn’t come without a cost. The costs have been many and varied and steep. I can still say that my preference would be to remain male, to be Greg, to end all of this. If I had a reasonable expectation of being able to do that, I would cease my transition.

Since I have no reasonable hope of living as a male without the extreme suffering I had, which only worsened each time I stopped transitioning and resumed trying to be a male, I move forward. And, forward it is. I feel good about myself. Healed. Whole.

Healing and wholeness allow me to be happy, and while happiness is neither my ultimate goal nor promised to anyone, I’ll take it, and I’ll be thankful for it, and I will continue to live in a manner which benefits my family and community, and glorifies my Lord Jesus Christ.