“My New V—– Won’t Make Me Happy”

This op-ed, the title of which I discreetly edited for my heading, published in The New York Times on November 24, quickly fueled a storm of conversation about trans persons, surgeries, insurance coverage, and oh so much more. You can read it here:

Andrea Long Chu begins with this: “Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. . . . Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.”

If Chu were looking to be provocative, to gain a name for herself, she nailed it. But if she wanted to be helpful—

  • helpful to other trans folks,
  • helpful to those who are weighing whether to have surgeries or begin HRT,
  • helpful to those who are pondering bringing loved ones into their tightly held secret that they suffer gender dysphoria,
  • even to be helpful to ultra-conservative trans-deniers that they might come to understand trans persons

—then I find her to have laid a big, fat egg.

And the egg isn’t only on her face. It’s all over transgender persons and the transgender conversation.

From what Chu wrote about her experience on hormones, I wouldn’t expect her to be overly optimistic that she will be happier after gender affirmation surgery. She wrote this: “I feel demonstrably worse since I started on hormones.” And this: “Like many of my trans friends, I’ve watched my dysphoria balloon since I began transition.” And this: “I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.”

Truly, I am befuddled why Chu transitioned, or, when recognizing these dramatic negatives, she continued.

And who are her trans friends? I’ve not heard these things from the many trans women and trans men I’ve gotten to know.

And I went through gender affirmation surgery. My neo vagina healed nicely. If my body reckons it as a wound, it hasn’t informed me that it does. And, painful attention to maintain the neo vagina? Yeah, there is some pain. For awhile.  It wears off.

Sheesh, Andrea. Talk about painting something as negatively as one can.

All of this might arise from her mindset. Earlier in the piece, she wrote, “I like to say that being trans is the second-worst thing that ever happened to me. (The worst was being born a boy.)” [parentheses hers] I understand this thinking and have written about it. Since the mind is the quarterback of the body, it calls the shots, and if a person identifies as female, then the easy, even automatic, response is to wish the body conformed to the brain. But why not the other way around? Could not Chu just as easily, from another mindset, have written the following? “The worst was being born with a mismatch of brain and body. Oh, that I could always have felt that I am a boy to match my body!”

Before writing how she feels worse since starting hormones, Chu says it is wrong for a person to think that feeling better will accompany transitioning. But isn’t that the entire point of transitioning? Isn’t it improved health which is behind every aspect of the process, to get the mind and body and the way one lives into alignment so that one feels better?

When I undertook living full time as a female—and, if you are curious, what happened with me, this year, resuming living as a male, is unrelated to any of this conversation—my twins demons were addressed. My suicidal thoughts almost entirely resolved; only rarely did a short term one pop up. The fear I had, that I would lose my mind—which had grown so severe, so real, that I often thought it would happen any given day—was entirely extinguished.

If I could sit with Andrea Long Chu, I would softly and compassionately ask her why she continued with her transition, and why she is going through with having her genitals reformed. From her essay, for the world of me it seems that she is doing all of this to prove a point, which she makes toward the end of her essay, and on which I comment in my concluding paragraphs.

I’ve read one response from a trans person, who noted that Chu doesn’t speak for all trans folks. She sure doesn’t. To me, not only is Chu not on the same playing field with the transgender population, she’s not even observing from the bleachers.

Chu seems to have forgotten a vital point, especially when someone lives in a way which is controversial—in this case, transgender—and discusses a topic which is controversial—here, gender affirmation surgery and all of the other aspects of transitioning—and writes about it publicly, and all the more so in a world-wide-read publication such as The New York Times: Chu doesn’t speak for all of us, but many—especially the trans-deniers—will hear her as doing so.

I feel that she threw all of us under the struggle bus.

I am confident she submitted this with the desire to do good, to benefit others. I find that she completely and utterly failed.

Chu concludes her essay: “There are no good outcomes in transition. There are only people, begging to be taken seriously.”

Yes, Andrea, every trans persons longs to be taken seriously, and who are you to suggest that there are no good outcomes in transition? Do you not see that your former assertion negates your latter point?

If a thing will not have a good outcome, why do the thing? If a thing will not have a good outcome, isn’t that a thing from which we run, a thing we avoid, a thing to be set aside in search of a thing which will produce a good outcome?

We figure out Chu’s thesis along the way but, finally, nearing the conclusion, she states it: “Let me be clear: I believe that surgeries of all kinds can and do make an enormous difference in the lives of trans people. But I also believe that surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”

There it is. “A simple demonstration of want.” I want it, therefore I get to have it.

No, Andrea Long Chu. Not a simple demonstration of want. Need? You betcha. Need, for the purpose of healing and improved health? You betcha.

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!

1600-Genderbread-Person

 

 

SRS: six months post-op

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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.