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 As the needle is slowly withdrawn, the anesthetic is injected, which adds to the sting.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.