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Hellooo Nurse! … GRS continued…

NurseOK, before I continue on my thrilling tale of my surgical experience, I need to set the record straight. It seems some think that I had some kind of unusual terrible experience. This is not at all what I’m trying to say. I don’t do a lot of whiney “oh heavens, cry for me” type posts, and when I do, you will know about it. You’ll bawl like a kid who dropped his chocolate twisty cone into a pile of dog poop. At least with vanilla you can pick the gross bits off if you like. I am, however, trying to set realistic expectations so no one has a mental picture of the bandages coming off and pretty little butterflies fluttering out of there. As for the title of this post, your geek cred is hereby revoked if you don’t remember the Animaniacs.

Last we left off, I awoke from surgery with a terrible sore throat and lots of well wishers calling me. I love them all dearly, but was praying for some kind of disaster to take out the cell towers and let me suck tiny ice chips in peace. For the first 2 days I was not allowed to even sit up, so had to find ways to entertain myself. I figured out the exact timing on the morphine pump and tried to hit it the very second it turned back on. If I jumped the gun, I got a heartbreaking ‘ur-uh’ sound, but practice got me good enough to hit that sweet ‘bleep’ every time. Three times in a row, and it would put me to sleep for up to 20 minutes. After 48 hours of this, I was incredibly tired. There was a TV, but it was one of those LCD dealies that only works right when you are looking right at it. Laying on my back, I could only look up and to the left, making all the images a negative view. I can’t believe fucking ‘Charmed’ is still on like 3 times a day.

Many people describe waking up for surgery and saying it was the happiest they ever felt. I love the idea of that, but I have to be honest here; it wasn’t the happiest I ever felt. I was much happier the day my son was born, the day I got married, and really even the time two bags of cheddar and sour cream Ruffles fell from the vending machine. I was very happy it was done, and felt a sense of calm relief, but in terms of feeling different, it was impossible to tell yet. For all I knew it was just a big gag and someone worked me over with a crowbar for a bit, then packed the area with a shitload of ice and bandages. Besides, I always looked at this operation as a means to achieve future happiness, rather than being the answer to all my prayers in and of itself. It’s like new car elation. At the beginning it seems very exciting, but eventually the thrill of going to work and home wears off. It’s the potential of taking that epic road trip or Wallyworld vacation that makes it all worthwhile.

On Thursday I experienced vast improvements. I was finally given food in the form of the ‘not so clear’ liquid diet. Hot tea, milk, juice, weird tasting “vanilla” ice cream, and something just plain nasty labeled ‘strained cream soup’ that I think was meant for toddlers as it tasted like a mixture of paste and boogers. Ironically, after all my aching and griping, I was no longer hungry. They also took me off of my sweet, sweet morphine pump and replaced it with stupid Vicodin. I was finally allowed to sit up and hate ‘Charmed’ from a better view. Best of all, my mom and aunt finally arrived after being lost in the wilds of Pennsyltucky for many hours, fastidiously following the directions of a malevolently erroneous GPS that they borrowed from my sister. I warned her not to use it to scrape ice off her boots, but whatever.

The nurse gave me fair warning early on that they were expecting me to attempt getting out of bed and standing later on that day. I made myself ready. Prior experience with nursing staff taught me that once a doctor, even one that didn’t see you in person, decided you were ready for something, it was going to happen. The easy way is to do whatever is necessary to comply and maintain a friendly, positive relationship with the staff. The hard way is to listen to your body and offer complaint or resistance and invite irascible prodding with escalating urgency. I took the easy way, and even though it felt like I was straddling red hot iron saw horse. I grit my teeth, rolled over, and stood on shaky feet. “Do you think you can take a few steps for me?” You bet your ass I can! My call button was always answered immediately when that damn machine started its beeping again. This is definitely going on the list of hints and tips I’m putting together. Work with the nurses and life is sweet.

I received a trans visitor not long after my first walk. Cynthia popped in to say hello and it took me a day and a half to figure out that she wasn’t a patient, even though she probably told me. I was super impressed that she was in real person clothes and walking around unassisted. I later found that her wife was the one who was Dr. McGinn’s other patient of the week. There is something very heartwarming in encountering one of your own in challenging situations, though I felt terrible that her wife was having a harder time getting up and probably getting a bit more of the pissed off nurse routine that I was so much trying to avoid. I got a little something that maybe there was some underlying irritation that I was zipping up and down the corridor like some fancy pants show off, but even so, she could not have been sweeter.

Friday came and they were ready to give me the boot, and in grand hospital tradition, at some undisclosed time. I truly doubt our military keeps the timing of critical operations under wraps half so well as hospitals. Could be this morning, could be after lunch, could be tonight, tomorrow, next month, or never. Who really knows? I was given my first solid breakfast and devoured it. I’d say the bacon was the best I’d ever had, but I say that about every piece of bacon I cram in my pie hole. At the specified time, my mom and aunt were ready and waiting. A few hours later, I managed to get myself dressed and was wheeled down, along with my humongous suitcase (Really? You aren’t going to move that yourself. No. ~ Dr. McGinn), to my aunt’s car. Several acrobatic moves later, I was seated uncomfortably in the passenger seat on my donut pillow and off to the bed and breakfast.

Coming soon, or when I get around to it: Why a donut pillow does jack shit on a bumpy road; the worst night; I cry; and why a B&B is a gorgeous and insanely ill advised place to try to recover in.

Why the ‘Year Long Test’ to Get “The Surgery” is Kind of BS

testI’m now 9 months into what my gender specialist calls my ‘Year Long Test’, or what I simply call the rest of my life. For those who may be unfamiliar, The Test is the period of time a trans person must live as the gender of their identity in order to qualify for GRS, or as 99% of the population knows it, The Surgery. Ugh, nothing like a slew of capital ‘The’s’ to seriously aggrandize everything. Anyway, I got thinking about this and have a few bits to share.

My first thought on hearing about this requirement was, “How ridiculous. If I know, I know.” My specialist begged to differ and painted it as a huge event upon which the rest of my life would be based, if I even ever got to that point. I humored him to some degree, but took exception to every instance he brought it up. “When you start your Real Life Test…” Hmm? Oh, yeah, you mean when I’ve finally managed to come out to everyone and start living the rest of my existence correctly? I didn’t say I wasn’t a difficult patient, and I suspected he had a well justified voodoo doll of me locked in his desk drawer that he used to make sure I could not find my car upon leaving. I don’t blame him; I’m just saying.

My point of view was very simplistic as I’ve said. The hard part was the long and painstaking effort of telling everyone, but once they knew, I felt weird and uncomfortable around them presenting myself as male as it didn’t exactly jibe with what I revealed. I hated that and knew in my heart of hearts that the real effect was adding to the habit they had of calling me “Mike” and referring to to me as “him”. Once I went full time, it would be pure bliss and I could not imagine ever wanting to go back for even a second.

Well, we live and learn now, don’t we? I will say that I have never considered for a moment going back, but I do see why temptation might present itself. All the big firsts were no-sleepers leading up, like the first day of work, first presenting myself to my family, my child, and old friends. Less stressful, but still on the mind were the first time to the grocery store, taking my son to a birthday party, and my favorite hardware store. Quick note on the last one. The boys at Hector’s never blinked when I came in looking for something and were as friendly and helpful as always in finding the exact right thing to repair a steel cable the dog managed to chew through. Compared to the alternative, however, no contest.

From a different point of view, things might have been different. If I didn’t have the ability to tune out the rest of the world and walk around in a state of blissful dissociation, there is the possibility that the stares would get to me. I don’t actually notice them myself, but my spouse does. If I lost my job and went on 42 interviews where I could tell I was dead in the water just walking through the door, an element of despair may have crept in. If I had no patience for the hour it took to make it out the door after discovering I only had 1 egg left when I needed 2, I may have had second thoughts.

Although I think it may be the exception rather than the rule, I can see where a yearlong test might be useful in seeing if you are ready to live and work as the gender opposite that on your original birth certificate. I consider myself lucky for having the personality I do, not to mention the elements of sheer luck that fell in my favor. Life can grind someone down, even if pursuing something so important and integral to their identity. Now for the big question.

Many aspects of the medical intervention aspect of transition are purely for the comfort of having one’s physical attributes match gender identity. If life becomes so heinous that social transition to the gender of best fit is in no way sustainable, does this change the desire to have one’s body match what is in their head? GRS is not really going to change any aspect of my non-romantic social life. No one is going to be able to see the change and the only marginal benefit is being able to wear slightly tighter pants, which let’s be honest, I probably shouldn’t do anyway. So why the assumption that failing the social Real Life Test means a person is going to be any more comfortable with what lies below the belt?

I believe the assumption is that for those of us who feel so strongly that GRS is an absolute necessity, we will do whatever it takes to grin and bear it through that year. Failure to do so must be indicative that the person is not really transsexual, or at least not sufficiently so to also have a deep personal need to make physical changes. This looks like a big whooping case of flawed logic to me. If the WPATH goal is the alleviation of suffering and the possibility of a fulfilled happy life, taking a rigid stand on this might be hugely counterproductive in certain cases.  Life circumstances can rarely be boiled down to a cold Boolean logic scenario where if A, then B; if not A, then not B, where A is the Real Life Test and B is GRS. In the words of Dennis Miller, “That is my opinion; I could be wrong.” I don’t think so though.

Home Stretch: My Consult With the Fabulous Dr. McGinn

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This past Saturday I had the pleasure of finally meeting in person the fabulous Dr Christine McGinn. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it appears as though I’m going to make one of my New Year’s resolutions after all! I can’t remember what the rest were, and clearly too lazy to scroll down the page, even though I took the trouble to link to the post here. That’s OK though, because out of all of them, this was the biggie and the rest will come in time.

Late in the winter, I finally got off my ever widening ass and did the research on who I felt comfortable doing the honors of reconstructing the burrito I certainly didn’t order into a much more aesthetically pleasing taco. After tens of minutes of internet research and some enlightening discussions with friends who have already been down this route, I had it narrowed down to 2 players for different reasons. First off, I really had a strong preference for staying in the northeast for logistical reasons. There were many close contenders and decided on either Dr Brassard in Montreal or Dr McGinn in New Hope, PA. Dr Brassard made it easy by not returning my calls and ignoring my patient intake form, while Dr McGinn’s assistant got in touch with me instantly and booked the consultation. It’s kind of who I was hoping for anyway, so that worked.

Here is the thing with me. Although Dr McGinn is not the oldest and most experienced person out there who specializes in vaginoplasty, she has had one. From a strictly medical knowledge standpoint, this means bupkis, but from a me being comfortable point of view, it’s fairly priceless. A number of previous medical experiences in the past have made me, well, just a tiny bit mistrustful of the practice in general at times. To have found someone who I feel some commonality with and within driving distance made it a no brainer to put her on top of the list and go see what she was about. Besides, if worse came to worse, I could always look elsewhere.

I brought my spouse along and we stayed at her mom’s in NJ, which is about an hour away from New Hope. Well, less with no traffic, but failing to meet a threshold of at least half the Jersey population on the road at the same time is against state law and strictly penalized. Her office was just a little bit hard to find, nestled in a large conclave of walkway connected suites similar to what I believe the Pueblo cliff dwellers were aiming for. We figured it out once I was able to decipher the Byzantine naming and numbering conventions that has to really piss off new mail carriers. It was a medical office, so I’m pleased to say they met expectations in keeping me waiting for a bit beyond the scheduled start of the appointment.

We met with her PA Heather at first and she was absolutely lovely. She had a great sense of humor and professionalism and made me feel completely at ease. Better yet, she was able to answer my questions so well, I hardly had any for Dr McGinn when she joined us. My big question, by the way, was about getting electrolysis, ahem, down there. I was aware of this, but also aware that Dr McGinn utilized the electro-cauterization technique to kill the hair follicles before stuffing those bits of skin up inside me. Ever the optimist, I was kind of hoping she would say, “No, no. You don’t have to worry about that nasty business at all. We take care of you!” She instead very honestly informed they that they tried their best to take of it, but it’s way lower risk to have some work done ahead of time. “After all, you don’t want the inside to act like an old carpet trapping in moisture, dead cells an whatnot.” Heather made a pretty good point, dammit, and I certainly didn’t want to spend the next 40 years being known as Miss Stankencooch. You can look for a future recounting of my shitty experience having that done. Does the pain and humiliation ever end?

Dr McGinn joined us and I liked her immediately, even though she had been on TV. She was very frank, honest, and also had a good sense of humor. At this stage of the game, I’m not super excited to disrobe any part of myself in front of anyone for any reason, but I specifically didn’t mind in this case because I had the knowledge that she had been there and could sympathize. I was also impressed by her bedside manner, which is also something important to me. I’ve been present enough in enough cases where someone was in howling level 10 pain and the attending physician was a total dick about it. With her I feel very much at ease that this is not something I have to worry about.

By the end of the appointment, I went ahead and booked a date. Yeah, I probably could have gotten other consults, but was pretty comfortable that no one was going to blow her out of the water in terms of competence of demeanor. The logistics of getting to her location and such were also a big plus for me. I’m not going to share the date here, because unlike most Facebook junkies, I’m not a believer in telegraphing my movements about the country. Suffice it to say though, I will not have another birthday improperly configured and really can’t think of a better present to myself.

If anyone is thinking of going to Dr McGinn and has any questions, feel free to shoot me a message using the address under the ‘Contact Michelle’ tab and I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as I can.

Can We Just Go Back To ‘Sex Change Operation’ Already?

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There is just something special about being part of a very small minority and living in constant worry of pissing off other members of your niche minority simply by choosing the wrong words. It’s one thing when an ignorant portion of the greater world population uses slang and terminology designed to be hateful, but when we start bickering amongst ourselves about these things, I feel we missed the boat all together. I think we should talk about this because I’ve been seeing way too much of it on the blogosphere and other bastions of free or repressive expression.

I’m going to talk about a fairly benign example, mainly because it’s on my mind at the moment. When I first came out to myself as trans over 2 years ago now, I still thought of it as “a sex change operation” in which the surgeon does whatever it is they do to turn penile tissue into vaginal tissue and do away with the boys. Then I leaned that this was antiquated and the real players called it Sexual Reassignment Surgery or SRS. Fine, it’s SRS then. Sounds a lot more standard medical-ly anyway. Within a few months, all of a sudden it’s “Oh, heavens no Michelle! Tis not our sex we change, but in fact our gender!” Fine, fine then, whatever; it’s GRS now I guess. Then just last week I have someone telling me about their GCS. I had to look it up, and lo and behold, now the word ‘reassignment’ is suddenly inflammatory because we are really correcting something. For the love of pistachios, how does anyone keep up?

For all the name changes, the basic surgery remains the same; reconfiguring penile tissue into vaginal tissue because they are essentially made of the same stuff anyway. As long as that is the result of the procedure, that is what I want, whatever it happens to be called that given week. Here is my point though. As a trans blogger, very active in the trans community, and planning to get this procedure this calendar year, if I can’t keep up with what it is being called on any given month, how is anyone else going to? It’s like changing the combination on a locked door the vast majority have no interest in opening to begin with. So why do we do it?

The first reason I can think of is that people are prickly about this. There are just some who if they can find a way to take offense, they jump right on it and demand satisfaction. While this may be somewhat true, I think the majority of it is people getting sick and tired of being misunderstood. Whether it be your mail carrier or dentist, the probability is high that the person you encounter next isn’t at all aware of the difference between sex, gender, orientation or much of the growing body of terminology surrounding these things. Mainly because it doesn’t apply to them, so they don’t really care. The result is many trans people constantly explaining themselves and wishing they carried around a little printout of the Genderbread Person to wipe the empty, slack jawed, and incredulous looks off people’s faces.

The current situation though, due to the constantly corrected set of terms and the amount of animosity that comes with misusing them, makes anyone ornery, including me. To date, I have yet to pull a new and improved term out of my ass and have to explain things any less than I did before. Sure, yes, it is “more correct” at a etymological level, but then I end up having to actually explain more because I’m not using the term people already know, which in spite of our best efforts to date, remains ‘sex change operation’. Unfortunate as it may be, when I use that, at least I only have to explain what I’m having done and not a convoluted history of the terminology. Side note, while I explain that many/ most trans people would really, really prefer not to be asked about this, I continue to leave myself open to questions. While it is no one’s business, I don’t mind, it gets knowledge out there, and may spare someone who cares a great deal.

Long story short, I think we need to have a national vote of some kind to settle this thing, roll out the number one answer after Richard Dawson hoots, “Survey says…!” and stick with it. Shit, I just totally dated myself again. Until we do that, I also propose a moratorium on pissiness when other trans people use one of the other terms still floating out there. We have enough on our minds without being overly politically correct amongst ourselves.

Now, looking at the evolution of the terminology, I think we ought to skip right to the end and maybe assume the next sentiment is that we don’t need “correction” after all because we are wonderful, and that it should be Gender Affirmation Surgery, because we are affirming the gender we already are through this procedure. Inevitably, someone will decide that highlighting the whole ‘gender’ thing to begin inherently leads to transphobia, so let it be Personal Affirmation Surgery. Now the focus is too much on the fact that we need medical intervention, which is personally intrusive terminology on too grand-ish a scale, so drop it just to Personal Affirmation Procedure. Voila! A sanitized term for mass consumption. Plus I really can’t see where people will confuse PAP with anything else.

Next week on Michellelianna: ‘Taking hormones’ evolves to Puberty Baseline Reversal, colloquially known as ‘PBR me, ASAP’.

Gender Identity and “The Surgery”

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Don’t you love statements that start with, “There are two kinds of [insert person type]”? It manages to reduce even the most complex personality characteristics into a neat little Cartesian dualism. No, no, I’m not talking about some jackass named Cartes who fought a dual, but the narrowing of options down to A or B, zero or one, black or white. I’ve heard rumblings of that kind of talk regarding the transsexual population. “There are two kinds of trans. The kind who get GRS and the kind who don’t”. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

I’m going to forewarn you, I am going to speak to my own personal understanding of my condition (or reality, or whatever we chose to call it), so this may come off biased. A little bias is unavoidable, but my point is definitely not to create an A vs. B argument here. Before we get to that, some more disclaimers, cause you know, what the hell, right? I use ‘trans’ for convenience and with the full understanding that the full umbrella includes transsexuals, cross-dressers, drag queens, genderqueer, etc. Sorry if I lumped you in ‘etc’, but the list is pretty freaking long. For the sake of this conversation, I’m using ‘trans’ to talk about transsexuals – we who feel very strongly that our operating system (brain, soul or whatever) does not match our hardware, and are compelled to make the change as a life continuing measure.

I’m going to anticipate the first objection up front. “But Michelle, there are so, so many who would kill to get GRS (SRS) but can’t! They can’t afford it, or they are not medically able to due to other reasons, or deathly afraid of surgery! How can you be so insensitive?” Ugh, tough crowd today. No, I’m excepting them from the discussion as that is a whole different topic all together. I’m specifically talking about why some trans who are able in every respect to get GRS do, and some are happy to leave things as they are. By the way, my sister Becky kind of addressed some of this already, and probably much better in her post.

In one of my meetings with my gender specialist, he asked if I was “a purist” or not in terms of wishing to go all the way with my transition, which he explained in his opinion is GRS. At the time, and this was a while ago, I didn’t realize anyone felt otherwise. Why on earth wouldn’t I want to? The question didn’t really make sense to me in that moment. My current, ahem, configuration sure doesn’t match my gender identity by a long shot, so why the hell would I want to keep things the same? While I didn’t suffer from the same hatred and revulsion about my anatomy as some do, I also have no attachment that will prevent me from making the exchange at the earliest opportunity. So what’s with the trans people who say, “nah, I’m good”?

Now, there are those among you I have heard speculate that those who have no compelling reason to seek GRS must not be “real trans” after all. It’s very tempting to think like that, because those of us who can’t imagine not doing it tend to find such thought processes somewhat shocking. “Really, you are going to keep it? Really? Why? What is wrong with you anyway? Poser.” This made sense to me at first. I thought about it though, and came to the conclusion that I was looking at it through “trannier than thou” spectacles. That isn’t right. If I’m trans and she’s trans though, shouldn’t we be marching to the same goal line?

I think the real answer fits in nicely with the truth about our gender identities. Our identity is what it is, whatever body we are in, or even if by some wacky mishap we end up as disembodied brains in jars. I hope the latter never happens, but if it does, rest assured that floating grey blob is decidedly female. From there it comes down to what we need to do to get comfortable in the body we have. Instead of it being a yes or no type question, it’s more a matter of scale as to what measures are required to live a comfortable life. If we were able to go forward doing nothing and making no changes, yet comfortable in our identity, then by all means we should do so. For those of us so horribly uncomfortable that every measure must be taken to move forward, it’s really nothing more than being on the suckier end of the scale.

The final answer is that there are not two kinds of trans, or even two-hundred. By fate, luck, or circumstance, we each land in our own little pocket of the roulette wheel and act accordingly. To those who can but don’t choose GRS, I don’t understand you. Not because I think you are wrong, but simply because I don’t have that. I think, however, that you fell on the lucky side of things, all things considered.

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