I almost called this post “A Cure for Depression.” Notice that I didn’t say The cure for depression, mainly because what I’ve learned won’t work for everyone, but it did work for me. The thing I found that made my depression go away, that made me stop feeling like dying every day, the thing that made me stop wishing for a train every time I drove over the tracks, was surgery.

Mostly, this surprised the shit out of me. I had some expectations for surgery, but not this. I hoped things would be better, that I’d feel different, but I knew that surgery wasn’t going to fix everything. And in a sense, it hasn’t. It didn’t change much of anything, not really. I still go to work like I always did, I still go home at the end of each day, we still fight about what we’re having for dinner, try to figure out what to do on the weekend. What did change, though, was the way I saw myself.

I knew that surgery was going to be for me and about me. Not that transition hasn’t been about me, but so much of it has been about finding my place and learning how to be a woman so that I could fit in. It felt like fixing how I related to the world around me. Surgery was about fixing the relationship I had with my own body, and when I said I didn’t expect it to fix everything else, I didn’t realize that was everything else. Everyone else saw me as a woman– I was one of the only people who didn’t. I think there were several roadblocks to seeing myself as a complete person, but not feeling at home in my own body, especially as things changed and some parts felt increasingly foreign as other parts felt more natural, was a huge part of it.

Something I’ve realized throughout all of the processing of the last few months is that I was completely unprepared for one aspect of transition– the need to continually press further and further on. That was something that no doctor, no psychologist, no counselor, no friend, no one who went before me said anything about– the need to finish. What drove my dysphoria the most, I think, was always feeling like I was in between two places, at a place in the gender spectrum that I didn’t want to inhabit anymore than I wanted to be a man. My gender identity shook out to a spot that was stereotypically feminine. I wanted to fit in, right down to not wearing white after labor day, and transitioning made fitting in easier and easier. My depression was fueled by the things that kept me from fitting in– and as I fit in better and better– those things became increasingly bigger problems. And I wasn’t prepared to deal with them.

It was a rough couple of years, finding ways to make everything happen– the trach shave, electrolysis, hormones, doctor and therapist visits, and eventually surgery. We scraped and struggled, but we did make it. We really didn’t plan out all the expenses associated with surgery as well as we probably could have– there were a lot of unforeseen circumstances that made things cost more than we expected, but we made it through that, too. There were a lot of near misses on the suicide front, and a lot of that was driven by that above-mentioned need to finish combined with the added stress of struggling to find the money to make it all happen. If I had to counsel someone in my position, I’d advise them to wait to transition until they had a little more money saved up so that it wouldn’t be so stressful. Have a plan to make it to the finish line, I would say, and you won’t get so discouraged along the way and try to check out like I did.

At the time, I thought starting sooner than later would be worth it– I could go full time sooner and while I might have to wait longer to get surgery, at least I’d be waiting that time out as a woman and not as a man. In truth, it was a mixed bag– the good times were really good. I felt genuinely happy and whole for some of the first times in my life. The bad, though, the need to finish and to actually be whole, was really hard.

And that’s where my relationship with my body comes back into this. Transition has largely been a social adjustment, and I think I’ve made a decent go at it. The affidavits* from my therapist and doctors all say that my transition has been very successful, and for the most part, they’re right, right down to being accepted as a woman by friends and colleagues and successfully living and surviving as a woman for the last few years. The relationship with my own body though, has been a lot more rocky. I’m not sure if it’s fitting or aggravating that the last step in this whole process would be the thing that sets right so much of the dysphoria I’ve lived with for so long. It’s sort of poetic, like a wooden doll living the life of a real child and finally being made a real child at the end of the journey. You can’t be what you want to be, the lesson is, until you start living the life you want to have. It makes sense in a way. But it is frustrating. It’s hard because it feels like so much pretending. I lost count how many times the word “acting” popped up over the last few sentences and I had to edit it out because it gave an air of pretense to this whole endeavor. And that’s telling.

Transition, guarded as it is by gatekeepers (as we call them) and letters and affidavits, can feel full of pretense– like one is always on trial, always expected to perform, especially when being socially measured against stereotypical gender presentations. The one thing, though, that I hope people take away from this blog is that life is too short for pretending to be someone you’re not, whether that’s gender non-conformance or anything else. Hell, that’s the reason why I transitioned: there was no magic cure waiting for me in the wings, no blue fairy waiting to turn me into a real girl, and life was too short to keep pretending there was.

When I was younger, I thought that I was supposed, like St. Paul, to wait, that I would be fixed when my time had come. You see, right after his conversion, St. Paul says in the first chapter of Galatians, he went into the desert. And after three years in the desert, he went to see St. Peter and then became a missionary. The way I was always taught about this passage growing up is that we were supposed to wait for our knowledge and faith to mature before acting on it. And I thought I was supposed to wait. So I waited. I prayed and read the Bible and went to church and prayed and sang and waited. And waited. And after more than twenty years of waiting, I decided I had waited long enough. But, a person might say, but maybe you didn’t wait long enough. How long, I would reply, how long would be long enough? Till my whole life had passed me by? I had already lost the entire decade of my twenties to this waiting and I decided I didn’t want to see another ten years go by without doing something about how I felt. Life was too short to be something I wasn’t. It was the parable of the talents all over again, and I wasn’t going to be the fool who buried her valuables in the ground and waited for something to happen. It’s the go-getters who do good in that story, and I decided to stop sitting around and to go get to it.

Now, it’s time for the reckoning. There is no more pretending. There is just me. I had transitioned socially, and all I had left to manage was how I saw myself. As I’ve said, in the eyes of most people I know, I’m accepted as a woman. It’s my eye, most often, that is most critical of myself, of how I look, of how I am. I am not sure how much is related to internalized transphobia, how much is just residual dysphoria, how much is socialization and biological essentialism, but until I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see not-a-penis, I don’t think I realized how hard it really was to internalize a female identity. But it’s taking.

Which brings me back to the proposed title of this post: a cure for depression. Feeling complete, albeit flawed, was really the biggest thing I had left to accomplish. I wasn’t sure how much of it was going to be worked out in therapy, whether surgery would help the process along or not, but I knew that it had to happen in order for me to go on living. I had decided last year to stop the self-destructive behavior and see what could be changed, if anything by taking that next step. Not long after surgery, when I was still battling the post-surgical depression, I figured I would give it six months. If I didn’t feel better, if things hadn’t gotten better for me, I figured I was going to go back on the suicide track. It wasn’t a threat or a way to get attention. It was an honest assessment. I was miserable a year ago. Surgery was an act of desperation. If knocking everything apart with that kind of a wrecking ball couldn’t help me get my life together, I figured it was a lost cause.

Through some combination of surgery and therapy, I feel like it worked, but I don’t think that surgery is for everyone, or that everyone who’s trans should want it. I know some people that are perfectly happy being non-op (as opposed to pre-op) but what convinces me that surgery was the right choice for me is that it doesn’t bother me for people to be non-op, just that I couldn’t have gone on if I had not had the option. I knew that. What convinces further is the fact that it worked. It was a gamble, a huge gamble but it paid off. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. And now it’s over. I feel like a huge chapter of my life is finished, and the last four years feel like my entire adolescence was crammed into them. In a sense, it was.

Now that I feel like this chapter of my life is over, I’ve been giving more to ending this blog, and it seems this is the time for that to happen. It has served its purpose, and given me the space I’ve needed to vent, to think, to find my place. I never anticipated that the end would come so soon, especially since I expected surgery to be at least six to ten years away in my future, but things never go as we expect– in addition to whatever else I’ve learned from this writing exercise, I’ve learned that much. I also realize that things aren’t wrapped up all tidily, topped with a bow. I remain estranged from my brother, from several members of my family, and expect that won’t ever change. It’s not satisfying, but most endings are rarely perfect, even if they’re happy. There’s probably a surgical revision in my future, too, probably around the end of the summer. Some things remain to be worked out, but I think that’s also a part of life– there’s always more to do. But all stories have to end somewhere, and really, the story of my transition, this story, is more or less over. The exciting bit anyway. So thanks. Thanks for sticking it out with me. Thanks for your friendship and your support– it helped me through a very tumultuous time in my life. ;-)

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*I’m in the process of getting together all the documents needed for a court ordered gender change. The court order will help me get my birth certificate amended, and part of the court filing is a set of affidavits from pretty much every doctor I have. There’s a sort of script that these things have to adhere to, and mentioning that the transition was successful seems to be the really important part.

I’m a member of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the biggest LGBT equality groups in the United States, and I get their email blasts that are supposed to keep us informed about how they’re spending our money, what kind of legalized discrimination they’re fighting against, and where some of the most egregious abuses are occurring.

There are a couple things, one good, one bad, one somewhat questionable thing, from the most recent email blast I want to bring up, so I’ll just dive right in.

First, the good: Rep. Richard Floyd, a Republican from Chattanooga, TN, was trying to get a law passed that would make it a misdemeanor offense (punishable with a $50 fine) to use a bathroom other than the one assigned for your birth sex. I’ve written at length about these so-called bathroom bills in the past, so I don’t want to rehash what I’ve already said. I am gratified to see, though, that unlike previous situations, the comments on the article at the Chattanooga Times Free Press are mostly sensible. The worst part of the whole thing, in fact, are Rep. Floyd’s remarks. If a teenager is dressed as a woman, and presumably trying on women’s clothing, it’s quite possible you’re dealing with someone who’s trans. Granted, there are some transgender teenagers who are perfectly happy with who they are and I think that’s awesome. In such cases, more power to them. Let’s just get out of their way. But what if that child, and I’m projecting a bit based on my own experience, is confused, full of self-loathing and needs more than a little help? Is charging that individual with a crime really the best way to handle the situation?

If said teenager is trying to use the women’s dressing room, I think the appropriate response here, and the response that seems quite lacking from most Republicans, is one of compassion. Rep Floyd, on the other hand, seems to think that “stomp[ing] a mudhole in him and then stomp[ing] him dry,” is the appropriate response. And they wonder why there’s so little support for the Religious Right/Moral Majority of my parents’ generation…

The good news, though, is that a member of the Tennessee state Senate, one Bo Watson, who had originally sponsored the bill, has done an appropriate about face and effectively tabled the measure, citing the more pressing issues that face our nation and his state as more deserving of the legislature’s time and effort. I don’t think this is the end of the situation in Tennessee, but at least it effectively neutralizes the threat.

The bad news I mentioned above is that in Oklahoma, they’re considering codifying a ban on gays and lesbians in the state’s National Guard. According to HRC, the state would be allowed to ask about the sexual orientation of service members. If there’s one thing the repeal of DADT has taught me, it’s that none of the dire predictions by the fearmongering Republicans came to pass. Having gay and lesbian service members only makes our military better and stronger– if you want to sign the petition to get this ridiculous measure tabled, you can do so through the HRC’s website, here.

The lukewarm news comes by way of Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who recently released her remarks on how the department is improving the lives of LGBT Americans. I’ve seen and heard a lot of good things about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and think that once again, the Republicans are screaming about the falling sky on bright, sunny days. On the downside, I have a major question about the ACA, and how Secretary Sebelius thinks it improves the lives of LGBT Americans, or at least, transgender Americans (that’s what you’re here for, right? Trans issues?).

Specifically, while we might all have the opportunity to obtain health insurance, with no exclusions for prior or current illnesses, I haven’t seen anything that addresses the refusal of Medicaid, state insurance or private insurers to cover transition related care. When abortion and birth control are things that our legislators are arguing about covering with public money, I can’t see how treatment related to transition, even when medically necessary, is going to be covered. Trans people historically get thrown under the bus, our interests sacrificed in order to make gains for other groups that represent more people (does anyone remember the trans inclusive ENDA and how quickly the trans part of that got excised back in 2007?). Transition related care can and probably will still be excluded from coverage, leaving us to try and find ways to cover the exorbitant costs on our own. While the ACA is a good step forward, I think it’s a bit silly to act as though it’s doing us a lot of favors. While we may be able to obtain insurance, the most expensive aspects of our care will still be excluded from coverage and that isn’t good enough.

Since things aren’t good enough, please consider going to the HRC website and finding ways to support the cause of LGBT equality, writing to your Congress critters and asking them to support the repeal of DOMA and to support a trans-inclusive ENDA. If enough of us are interested in the cause of social justice, we can’t be ignored.

While there are pressing issues facing our country, including a bad economy, I don’t believe that fixing the economy is separate from fixing problems of inequality for the LGBT community: repealing DOMA and passing a trans-inclusive ENDA and improving healthcare for LGBT Americans are all things that help people, real people like me, like your friends and family, save money on our taxes, save money on our necessary healthcare and ensure that the jobs we have are jobs we don’t have to worry about losing because of who we are.

The alarm went off early, too early for me, and I was surprised I had even been able to fall asleep the night before. It was like the anticipation before leaving on a long-awaited vacation, but a lot worse. I got out of bed, dressed and we drove from the hotel in Trevose to the hospital in Bristol.  We got there just before 9AM.

Typical hospital admission: ID, credit card, paying even more money, wristband.

I went to another wing of the hospital and had some blood drawn for some labs.  I sat there for what felt like hours, all alone, wondering when someone would remember me.  It was only twenty minutes.  The phlebotomist pinched me as the needle went in– the most painless experience I’ve ever had with a needle, though I did get a big bruise from it later.

After the blood draw, we went upstairs to a waiting room, and after about five minutes, a nurse brought us back to a pre-op prep area.  I took off my clothes, put on the gown, the socks with the grippy stuff on the bottom, a bathrobe.  We waited for at least an hour while the morning surgery finished up. To keep me occupied, my friend Melynda and I watched Nom nom nom nom babies for about the eightieth time. It’s not a work of musical genius, but it made me laugh and helped keep my mind from jumping into the deep end of anxiety.

Shortly after 12, the nurse came in. The morning surgery had been finished and now it was my turn. She took me to the surgical prep area: I got a bed, they started my IV, gave me an anti-coagulant and put compression stockings on my legs. There were all the usual consent forms, the one from the surgeon I signed before she even finished reading it to me. I wasn’t about to back out at this point. After all the busy work, I was just waiting to get wheeled into the OR and I started tearing up. I’ll be honest– I was scared. I was afraid of how much things would hurt after, afraid that I’d wake up in the middle of the fucking thing, and well, just afraid. This was a big step and I was laying there, all alone. One of the OR nurses came over to me and asked how I was, handed me a tissue and talked and joked with me to help keep my mind off it. I can’t, for the life of me, remember his name, but that had to have been one of the most valuable services I think I’ve ever received from a nurse and words fail me in trying to express my gratitude for his kindness.

After a couple more minutes, around 1:15, the anesthesiologist came back, pushed something into my IV, and that’s all I remember.

I woke up around 5:15 (the only reason I remember the times is that there was a clock facing me) in a recovery room. I couldn’t really feel anything, the way it always is when you wake up after sleeping– nerves slowly start waking back up and you can start moving your hands and arms and head. The surgeon was there, and she told me not to move my legs, or even try. Based on the kind of surgery, they didn’t want the area to get compressed or squished by my thighs, nor any stress placed on any of the muscles or stitched incisions. So I laid there. I had a vague feeling of cold around my crotch– ice packs, but not much else. I was there for maybe 15 or 30 minutes, just long enough to fully wake up, and they wheeled me to my room.

Christine and Melynda were there, a nurse hooked up my IV, and I got my morphine drip. I had an Ensure milkshake-thing, those protein drinks that keep you alive when you can’t really eat solid food. I tried watching movies– I actually felt pretty decent, but then pain would creep up, I’d press the button, and the morphine would knock me right out.

I had the morphine until Wednesday, and I remember very little of that time. I’m pretty sure I talked to Christine about several things, including getting a puppy, but I think I hallucinated most or all of that conversation. I was on twitter, too, but I have no idea whether any of what I said over those days was even intelligible.

In the periods of lucidity, despite the pain medication, despite the bandages, despite the packing in my vagina, despite the not hardly moving at all, I could feel that things were different. I couldn’t tell exactly how different, but I did know that there wasn’t a penis attached to my body anymore. A few nerves woke up, nerves that used to be on the outside and were now on the inside of my body. It was weird, but not necessarily in a bad way.

On Wednesday, I was able to get up and walk around the floor of the hospital where my room was– one turn around the perimiter of the nurses’ station, what would take a person about 30 seconds, took me nearly ten minutes on a walker. But I was up, walking and feeling mostly good.

I was reluctant to take the Vicodin they were giving me due to my history with it. I can’t really explain, other than to say that the thought of taking Vicodin again was about as unpalatable to me as chewing Tylenol. I started having problems with nausea, which I think, was at least partly due to the pain– not taking any pain medication just ended with me feeling achy and lousy all over and it seems one of the side effects of that was that it became very hard to keep food down.

By the time I was discharged Friday afternoon, I’d not had any solid food for a week, but at least the nausea was starting to subside. I managed to get into a wheelechair, and from the wheelchair to the car without too much pain, but the car ride back to the hotel was pure agony. It was very uncomfortable to sit (I’m sure you can imagine), and those inflatable donut cushions didn’t really provide support in the places I needed it, so I balanced, somewhat precariously on several pillows. When we made it to the turnpike, I found myself in the worst traffic jam I’ve ever seen– parts of the road were shut down for construction.

Having not been on any pain medications, and not being terribly comfortable to start with, sitting in stop and go traffic for thirty minutes was horrible. And we’d only gone about one mile. We had about six more to go. I started crying. My pain levels had gone up and thinking of sitting in the car for several hours was enough to make me lose my shit. Christine, completely out of ideas, started driving down the shoulder of the highway, cutting back into traffic as necessary. All told, the drive back to the hotel, which should have taken about 16 minutes, took over an hour and a half.

We got to the hotel and despite all my reservations against it, I took a Vicodin and drank another protein shake. And of course, I was completely fine. The medication didn’t make me sick, and I had an easier time keeping food down now that I wasn’t feeling so horrible the entire time. We stayed in Trevose for a couple nights– me laying in bed, taking Vicodin every few hours, drinking protein shakes, watching movies and trying not to laugh at anything funny because it hurt to laugh. I had to empty my catheter every few hours as they’d capped it before I left the hospital. So I still had to “pee”, for some definition of the word that didn’t actually involve getting out of bed.

On Sunday the 11th, we transferred to a hotel in New Hope, closer to my doctor’s office where I’d be having my followup appointments. That ride, thankfully, was completely uneventful.

On Tuesday the 13th I had my first followup visit with the doctor. They removed the last of the bandages, removed the packing from my vagina and I got to see… what looked like someone had detonated a stick of dynamite in my underwear. Lest you think I’m unhappy with the results, that’s not the case, not in the slightest. One week after that kind of surgery, though, well, nothing is going to look pretty, no matter how good your doctor might be. The incisions had skin glue on them (which is a blackish color) to keep them from tearing open, some areas had turned black from a lack of adequate blood flow post surgery. Everyone is different, blood vessels are in different places, and sometimes you just don’t get adequate flow. It happens, and the doctor assured me that everything would heal up and even the areas where some of the tissue had died would eventually grow over. She said it wouldn’t look the same in several months and not to worry prematurely– while there is a chance the cosmetic appearance would be a little assymetrical, I didn’t have much to worry about functionally speaking and any problems could always be addressed later on.

So, here I am, typing this about six weeks after that doctor visit and she was right– most of it has healed up. There’s one section I’m a little concerned about– that small assymetry, but honestly, it’s not horrible. Depending on how it heals, in six or nine months, I’ll consider whether it’s going to require a revision, but it needs at least that long to heal, for all the swelling to dissipate and for us to really know what we’re dealing with.

Functionally speaking, everything works– I can pee properly, or as properly as any woman can pee– one thing I didn’t know until I had my consult is that urinating with a vulva can be messy– it’s not unusual for it to get on your buttocks or part of your thigh. I don’t mean that peeing is analogous to a whirlygig lawn sprinkler, but it’s not like you can write your name in the snow, either.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the typical ups and downs– my surgeon warned me that a post-op depression is common and so I’ve been taking my medication, but there are times where mutilated is exactly the word I want to describe how I’m feeling. It’s an odd thing to have absent parts of my body that I’ve lived with for more than 30 years.  And now they’re gone. I’m happy they’re gone, and I like how my clothes fit, and I like… well, I like how things turned out. But there’s still a bit of residual sadness, a mourning, a final mourning, for what I left in that OR– those last vestiges of that person I was.

I don’t mean that I want to go back to the way things were, or that I’d undo my surgery, I just mean that sometimes, in the dark, when everyone else is asleep, I cry a little for the way things had to go in order for me to get here. I think Dolly put it best: “Redmeption comes in many shapes with many kinds of pain.” It definitely does. I feel better, life feels better, but it hurt me, a lot, to get here.

Now, lest this seem misleading, I don’t know that surgery made everything better, but I am sort of… happy.  Not happy exactly, not the way some people use the word, especially since I know there’s still a substantial amount of self-loathing in there, but, well, things are different.  And that’s what I was counting on.  Things are different.  This tipped my life upside down and that’s all I really expected it to do.  It’s a different matter whether I’ll be able to set things upright and be happy with the end result.  I’m hoping I will, since that was kind of the point of doing this. It’s a bit like re-modeling a house– you knock down a lot of what you had and hope that what you can rebuild will be worth living in when you’re all finished.

Over the last couple years I’ve become very bitter at God and life and the Universe for all of this– I spent probably $30000 out of pocket on medical expenses last year when I can’t pay pre-existing medical bills– I’m in the hole $15000 from my suicide attempt in 2010.  My wife and I have a substantial amount of credit card debt, very little money left at the end of the month and no real way to ever get anything in a savings account.  We’re thinking of selling our condo back in California just to make it easier to make ends meet here.  So all of that sucks. Everyone it seems, has money trouble these days, and while it may have been smarter to use the money to pay the pre-exisiting debt, to pay off some credit cards, I don’t think I could have survived much longer, not if I had to stay the course with the way things were.

Sometimes, at night, when I’m crying, the other thing I think of is Frodo, with Sam on the slopes of Mount Doom, after the ring’s been destroyed and the land tears itself apart all around them. “It’s done, Sam,” Frodo says. And while I’m holding a lot of conflicting thoughts in my head in those dark hours, being able to say that to myself, that it’s done, does help, even if only a little, even if it doesn’t cure every ill.

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*I stole the title of this post from a dear friend who stole it from someone else.  That makes it okay, right?

It’s been brought to my attention that I’ve failed to update the blog here and let people know that I am, in fact, alive.  So, here I am, alive.

It’s been just over three weeks since my surgery, and things are going, but going slowly.  I can walk, but not easily.  I can sit, but not comfortably.  Sleep is a hard-won commodity and I end up with a lot more urine on me than I’m used to having.  These things are all going to get better– they’ve already improved a lot in the short time since all the bandages, packing and catheter were removed. I’m mostly off pain medication now, too.  I take Tylenol from time to time as I need it, but I no longer take anything like clockwork.

In other words, I’m doing well.  Or at least as well as you might expect from someone who’s had a relatively major surgery.  Things are still settling, though, physically and emotionally, so there will be another post in which I say more about everything.  Rest assured, though, it is coming.

I just got off the phone with the hospital, confirmed my check-in time for Monday, and now I’m starting what I expect to be the longest weekend of my life.  Waiting.  Just waiting.   For someone who usually hates Mondays, Dec 5th will not come soon enough.  I have things to do and I know I’ll stay plenty busy doing laundry and packing up any last minute necessities, but the time is dragging by so slowly already, that I can’t imagine the next two and a half days feeling like anything other than dog years.

The closest thing it reminds me of is Fred Clark’s post about Holy Saturday.  My life has been an endless period of waiting for this Monday, this turning point in my own calendar.  There were times where I thought I would never see this, as though the timer had stopped and would be stopped for years– there was none of what Fred calls “Sunday certainty.”  Only hope.  Then it started, moving, closer and closer, and December couldn’t get here fast enough, and where did all that time go?  The days have passed, the weeks, the months, and now, I’m at the cusp. It feels a bit like a dream, like I’ll wake up on Monday and realize that I dreamt all of this and that I am, of all people, most to be pitied.  I feel like I can’t speak with the certainty that this will happen because it hasn’t and my one fear, if I have a fear around surgery, is that it won’t happen.

From what I understand, I’ll be on morphine until Thursday and discharged from the hospital on Friday.  I’ll post an update here as soon as I can, but it may almost a week before you hear from me again.

Until then.

I’m going to be repeating a bit from a previous post with this short entry, I expect, but what I’m feeling seems to be something familiar, just more acute as the surgery date gets closer and closer– a very deep sense of loss.  That God is not God.  That when I wrote the check for the surgeon to book the OR for that day in December, I was saying, in effect, “I no longer trust you to take care of this.  I trusted you for too long and you’ve let me down.  I’m doing this now.  I’m taking charge.  I’m in control.  I’ll solve this problem.”

It’s good, of course, to take control of one’s life, to make one’s own decisions.  I can’t go through life letting other people tell me what to do, or who to be, or how to be.  But I hoped, I prayed for so many long long years and every day, every time I woke up or cried, another little part of me felt like it broke or died.  And finally, I gave up.  Enough was enough.  God had let me down.

Maybe, you might say, God just fixed things so I’d have all that money so I could get surgery in the first place, but, and this is what gets me– those same people claim that God has some plan for this, some plan for my life.  If my life is part of someone’s plan, then there’s going to be some explanation required.  It’s cruel to plan a person’s life around this kind of pain.  I don’t want to believe in a God that requires pain and suffering like this any more than I want to believe in a God who hates us so much that we’d be sent to hell for being as he made us.

I’ve made my own meaning out of this pain.  This isn’t the result of God’s plan, this was my own effort to make something good out of what has happened to me.  This blog is part of that– an effort to tell people about how this particular experience was for me.  It would be different for others, but maybe, just maybe, someone, somewhere, would get something from it.  Helping someone else in that same pain, or realizing that they’re not alone, or maybe helping someone understand what their loved one was going through– those were always my hopes for this place.  In that, I think, this blog has been successful.  I’ve met a few people that decided to use my Contact page and we’ve talked, exchanged stories, commiserated.  I’ve become friends with more than a few people who stumbled upon me in this corner of the internet.

But for all the goodness that I’ve manufactured from this, there is a grief– a grief for the things I was told about God that I no longer believe, a grief for a life that I wanted to have and couldn’t, a grief for a substitute life that I tried living and couldn’t abide.  There is grief for the things I believed that I now see to be lies.  I invested so much time in that false hope, in that belief that I could be a man if I just prayed harder, or went to church one more time, or read my Bible just a bit more.  It breaks my heart to think of all the life that has been stolen from this woman who has spent most of her adult life trying to be someone she is not.

I am moving forward, I am taking a very bold step forward, but there is a wreckage behind me and I weep for the lives within it.  That is the legacy of my church.  And I grieve for it.

There are a couple of things that I need to do before surgery, in addition to getting the last of my money together– I have some electrolysis to finish, a physical I need to get, and at some point, I need to go off hormones.

The first I’ve been doing, and absolutely hate.  The second, I’m not too worried about.  The third might be as bad as electrolysis.

First, let me explain how absolutely horrible genital electrolysis really is.  Imagine, if you can, having a small, very thin probe, almost like a sewing needle, slid along the hair shaft and into the skin, until the tip of the probe sits down inside the hair follicle (this doesn’t really hurt, not usually anyway).  Now imagine that there’s a jolt of electric current and heat delivered via that probe into the hair follicle (and by way of collateral damage, some of the surrounding tissue).

That hurts. In fact, it doesn’t just hurt, it fucking hurts.  There are few things in the world worse than this– I’d rather break a bone than have to go through the hours of electrolysis that I’ve already had to endure.  In fact, having this done on the genitals hurts so bad that I basically had to stop doing it.  At one point, I was terrified I wouldn’t have enough hair cleared before surgery.

Fortunately (or not) for me, my surgeon offers electrolysis through her office which can be done under a local anesthetic.  That sounds great, right?  Except it isn’t.  I’ve had locals before– a small syringe, small needle and what feels kind of like a bee sting as the lidocaine enters the tissue.  I was prepared for that.  It would hurt like a motherfucker to get stung on the crotch, but that would fade pretty quick and then electrolysis would be pain free.

Except that’s not how this works.  The first day I go to the doctor’s for electro, she’s prepping the anesthetic and I make the mistake of looking over at her as she approaches me to administer it.  She was holding a gigantic barrel syringe, probably 20 or 30 ml, and on the end of it was a spinal needle that had to be 12 inches long.  I realize that terror can mess up our perceptions, but each time I’ve been back and had the misfortune to see this, it looks the same–30 ml syringe, big ass needle.

The needle is inserted at one side of the midline, next to the penis, and pushed down towards the testes.  It’s excruciating.  I usually scream.  As the needle is slowly withdrawn, the anesthetic is injected, which adds to the sting.  And screaming.  As the end of the needle nears the insertion site, the doctor changes the angle, pushes the needle back in a few inches, and injects more anesthetic in the surrounding tissue.  I’m usually crying at this point.

Then, the doctor switches sides.  Always the right side first, then the left.  On the left side, there are three tracks for the needle, one that crosses the midline, and two that mirror the right side.  More screaming.  More crying.

The lidocaine contains a small amount of epinephrine, and so I get the shakes afterwards, my heart pounding.  I looked over at the electrologist one time after this was all over and she looked like someone just killed her puppy.  I’m not sure what that meant.  Another time, I said that it always feels like the needle was coming out through my scrotum at the other end.  She responded that sometimes it does.  The amount of blood they wipe up after the injections make me wonder if she isn’t serious.

After that’s done, though, the electrolysis is a piece of cake.  The injections last for about two and a half hours, after which time the doctor usually does a second round of injections.  More screaming and crying, but we get another two hours of electrolysis out of the day.

All told, it ends up being about five minutes of pure agony to not feel four hours of electrolysis.  I’m not entirely convinced that it’s a fair trade, but I can at least manage the injections– after a while the electrolysis becomes completely unbearable so this is probably the only way I can manage to get all of it done.

Driving home, the last of the lidocaine usually wears off, and my crotch takes on a low level itching and burning feeling for about three days.  Plus I get a series of bruises that turn almost my entire groin purple.  The bruising takes about a week to really go away, but the pain usually lasts for up to three weeks or more.  Around the time it actually stops hurting, I realize I have to go back to the doctor for more.

Once, upon realizing I had to go back in two weeks, I broke down in tears.  “It hurts so bad,” I whimpered over and over to Christine as she put her arms around me.  My psychologist likened it to post-traumatic stress.  I think that might be a bit extreme, but even the memory makes me want to cry.  He may not be too far off the mark after all.

Having said all of that, it should seem pretty serious to say that going off hormones is as bad as electrolysis.  Hormones, breasts, genitals, don’t make the woman, but I’ll be honest– a part, at least, of my identity is tied up in my body and how it looks and going off hormones– I’m terrified about how it’s going to affect me.  I’m not worried about my thyroid cartilage growing back or any such thing, but I am afraid that I’ll lose some of the fullness my breasts have managed to pick up in the last year and the thought of not having all that estrogen swirling around in my brain, is well, scary. I feel a little unstable when I hit the troughs in my estrogen cycle, I imagine that being off of it for several weeks will be very stressful.

On the plus side, it will never be as bad as detransitioning– going off estrogen doesn’t mean the testosterone is coming back– there won’t be any way for my body to make it, except for some low level production by the adrenal glands.  I am a bit concerned about being stuck in PMS mode for several weeks, though.

Knowing that post-surgical depression is common, that it will probably happen, will hopefully make it easier to deal with, but I also know that I’m not always so great at handling my depression.  I have some plans in place to help, including regular appointments with my shrink, but really, I hope that having my body the way it should be, or at least as close as I’ll ever get to how it should have been, will be no small comfort.

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