2017: The culmination (1)

 

The microwave take

I had set my goal to be fully transitioned by the time I turned sixty. Over the course of four years, I had done everything to set up 2017 to complete the task in time, having the surgeries I desired.  My birthday is in April, after the eleventh.

  1. January 19: Vocal cord surgery
  2. April 11: Sex reassignment/gender confirming surgery
  3. November 22: Facial feminization surgery and breast implants

When I fudge my stated goal—to have all of my surgeries in the calendar year in which I turned sixty—I can claim to have achieved it.

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That was one crazy ladder.

The crock pot take

It was 2013. A few months after I began seeing a therapist that April, I had decided that I would need to attempt transitioning, to see if it would help me feel better. Actually, I was on about my tenth decision to transition, and my mind would remain on the I-will/I-won’t swivel for more than two years.

That January, I had crashed. As I reflect on things, I now see that I was in the process of crashing for a few years, since my very early fifties. My life was like watching a slow motion video of a football running back who is hurling through the air, stretching for the end zone, only to have the enormous linebacker awaiting.

It was five years ago that I finally made contact with that linebacker. I was crushed, crunched, and crashed.

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Yeah, that’s me—new look, same great taste, and still a dip!

Back to the therapist’s office, that summer I had once again decided I would need to give transitioning a try. Nothing else was working. I was getting worse. Meltdowns were my too-frequent visitors. I cried almost as much as I breathed. If I could have torn off my flesh, I would have.

Having announced my decision, I said to my therapist, “I have a goal. I want to be fully transitioned, with whatever surgeries I will decide to have, by my sixtieth birthday, in April of 2017.”

At the time, I had plenty of time. As I tore off calendar pages, it felt like sand seeping out of the hour glass and through my fingers. Before 2013 was out, I had begun hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and in 2014 I retired. Outside of retiring, everything else was a seesaw, including the HRT which I stopped and started four times. Up and down I went, and with every hard landing came the next crash, more jarring than the others.

While suicidal thoughts regularly came calling, I never was close to trying. What came close, and I truly thought was going to land and stick, was losing my mind, going insane, becoming a blithering idiot of a person who could do no more than sit around, eating and watching television.

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Nice, but I like my new packaging better.

That is where I found myself in June of 2015. On April 29, I had gone public online, that I had struggled all my life with my gender identity. I was so hoping that fighting my battle in public, openly writing about it, would strengthen me in my resolve to remain male. I found that while writing was therapeutic, being public about this was no cure. In June, I decided to begin to live full time as a female, to see if it would help. I set July 2 as the date to go all Gina, all of the time.

I was finding relief. Thus, in mid-August, I went public about it. I changed my online presence from Greg to Gina. While I continued to have seesaw-situations, each one was situational A pattern emerged. Every time I took the next step, I subconsciously rebelled against it.

And, every time, not only did I fight through the rebellion, taking the step proved beneficial. I succeeded at living as a female. I legally changed my name on May 2, 2016. I scheduled visits with surgeons. I kept going forward.

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Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!

In 2017, I had every surgery I planned to have. If surgeries did not take so long to accomplish, I would have made my goal of being fully transitioned by my sixtieth birthday. After I hit sixty, the lone thing I had to do was my face surgery and breast implants. At least, I can say that I got them done during the year that I turned sixty. Yeah, I’ll go with that, reaching my fudged goal.

Since my final surgery, I have been on a high. It is a combination thing. I am both tremendously happy with the surgery and riding the wave of being done. If I had a pizza for every time I have verbally proclaimed a huge, smile-accompanied “Whew!”—well, I’d be continually sauced.

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I’ll take four of these and leave the “33% more!!!”

The other thing I find myself saying is, “I am a completely transitioned transsexual.” This boggles my mind. From my middle-school years, when I first learned about transsexuals and was so intrigued by them, to the many years that my regular lament was, “All I want in life is to be a girl,” of all of the daydreams I had where I could not ponder actually transitioning, so foreign to my life was that notion.

And now here I am. I am one of them—a male who is a fully transitioned trans woman.

If I had been selected in high school to be part of some crazy send-a-teenager-to-the-moon program of NASA, and had been the youngest person to lope the lunar landscape, it would not have been any wilder in my imagination than the ground on which I am now walking.

It turns out the man in the moon is transgender.

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Ain’t that cheesy?

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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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.

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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.