DISCLAIMER: I am not interested in people telling me “it’s going to be OK.” I know it’s going to be OK. Likewise, I am perfectly capable of talking myself down from any and all of the below-listed fears. And I realize that – while none of them are stupid - they’re all perfectly normal and will pass as I go through them and come out the other side . But this specific post is about my expressing and processing my fears, not being told “it’s going to be OK.” So please resist the urge. The only exceptions to that request are:
- You are providing a link to someone else’s experiences around actually having surgery
- You yourself have had a vaginoplasty (or comparable, major, trans-related surgery) and are willing to talk about it
Put another way, this post is not about you trying to make me feel better. I appreciate the sentiment, but now isn’t the time.
That’s out of the way. On to the post itself.
Last week, I attended (and did a reading at) the launch of Spider Teeth, a zine by ellie june navidson. ellie and I aren’t super close, but we’re friends and I’m a big fan of her as a person, an artist, and an activist. The zine is about her experiences around having surgery in Thailand during the spring of 2013, with pieces written in present-tense around the lead-up, surgery itself, recovery, and in the months since. It talks about the politics, emotions, physical experiences, and more. The other night, ellie read some selections from the zine, but I didn’t have a chance to sit down and give it the attention it deserved until a few days ago.
It’s awesome. Beautiful, well-written, and perhaps the best piece of writing I’ve ever seen about “the surgery.” (This post isn’t a review of the zine, but I’ll give one anyway: Go buy it. Find a way to track down ellie, give her money, and get a copy.) It also brought up a lot of my fears, many of which I’ve been giving lip service to (“Of course I’m scared!”) but hadn’t really sat down and inhabited.
I’m scared. I currently have thousands of dollars sitting in a bank account – almost all of it given to me by friends, family, and strangers – for a surgery I don’t really want.
Before you freak out, I don’t mean that I’m unsure, or uncertain, or don’t want this, or bla bla bla. I mean that I don’t want to have surgery. I think of it like learning languages: I don’t want to learn a new language; I want to have learned a new language. Similarly, I don’t want to have this surgery; I want to have had this surgery. I am in no way uncertain that I’m doing the right thing, any more than I can be certain about anything. And I’m more certain than I am about most things. But it’s still big, and expensive, and painful, and gross. And I have all this support, which is scary in and of itself. It feels like a responsibility, a weight, a burden.
$22,000 ($17.5K for the surgery, the rest an estimate of travel/housing) for this surgery. Months of healing. Daily dilation. Drugs. Pain. Fingers crossed that everything will work; that I’ll be able to cum ever again.
So yeah, a little scary.
And yes, the unknowns are scary: Will there be any complications? How long will it take for me to recover sensation? Will I be able to orgasm? How will I fare, mentally and emotionally? But the knowns are pretty fucking scary, too: I know that it’s going to be painful. Really painful. “Difficult to walk and bathe and go to the bathroom” type painful. I know dilation is going to suck. Dr McGinn recommends the following schedule:
Weeks 1-8: 5x/day
Weeks 9-24: 3x/day
Weeks 25-52: 1x/day
Weeks 53+: 2x/week
Lets do some math. Dilating takes about half an hour: 20 minutes in, plus setup/cleanup. That’s 140 hours total in the first two months, another 160 hours for months 3-5, and another 100 for the rest of the first year. So about 400 hours of dilation. Painful (at first), messy (always – lots of lube) dilation. Sure, it will hopefully be fun as I rediscover nerve connections and sensation, but still.
And for the first few weeks (possibly months) my new vagina is going to be gross and swollen and bloody and have bits falling off. My new vagina will have bits of dead flesh falling off as I heal, and this is considered normal. This is what I’m doing to my body. This is what I “want” to do (to have done, past tense) to my body. I’m scared that I will experience that and vomit and cry and hate what I’ve done to myself.
I’m scared about going off hormones before surgery, and staying off ‘em for a bit after. I’m scared my boobs will shrink. I’m scared my body remembering that it can actually produce testosterone will make me go crazy. Crazier. I’m already expecting a certain amount of crazy the last week or so leading up.
I’m scared I’m gonna loose it in front of my high school students before I leave.
I’m scared I’ll have hairs growing in my new vagina. (This is perhaps the least important and most ridiculous fear I have.)
I’m scared this is going to make me feel less trans. Care less about my community, my politics, my art. That I’ll become complacent in my privilege, and in my body.