Coming Home: Post-op Musings

Warning:

There is a pic of my 10 day post-op chest at the bottom of this post. If visible stitches aren’t your cup of tea, you might not want to scroll that far. 

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Today I had the post-op appointment for my recent chest reconstruction surgery. Throughout the process of planning this surgery I tried to keep my expectations very low.

I knew I needed to do it, but I was anxious about going through with it. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be satisfied with the results; or that even though I desperately wanted a flat, masculine chest, it would take me time to adjust to the reality of such a huge change.

So today, when the dressings came off I was braced for disappointment. I was ready to look down and feel shock, disconnect, or even grief. I was prepared to deal with the need to mentally recalibrate in order for my new chest to feel like part of me.

But as the dressings fell away and I saw how my chest looks now, I felt an amazing sense of peace. It felt so right.

It felt like coming home.

I can still remember how it felt when I was a child running around on the beach or in the garden without a shirt on, and now, thirty-five years later, I finally feel reconnected to my body. This is how I was always supposed to look.

This is me.

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Update: Chest Reconstruction Surgery

Greetings, blog followers!

Trigger warning: contains some references to surgical things, but the gory details are mostly in external links rather than in my post. 

So, as many of you already know (if you follow me on social media type places) I had chest reconstruction surgery on Monday 19th of June with Mr Andrew Yelland in Brighton. The goal of chest reconstruction (or ‘top surgery’) is to create a natural male-looking chest.

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I’m on day 4 post op now, and recovery is going pretty well as far as I can tell. My chest is currently covered in bomb proof dressings and I have to wear a tight compression binder over the top of that. It’s a little disconcerting having no clue what’s going on under there (stitches and staples apparently). But I have very little pain and everything feels okay, so I’m working on the assumption that all is well. I get the big reveal at my post op appointment on Thursday next week.

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I didn’t really know what to expect from recovery, so have been going with the flow. Happily, it’s been much less painful than I was expecting. I’m more uncomfortable because of the binder than the actual incisions. The heat wave during my first two days of recovery didn’t help with that either. Sleeping is tough, because I’m trying to stay propped up so I don’t accidentally roll onto my side. But all in all I feel mostly okay. Just tired, and bored of sitting around.

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For those of you who are interested in the details of the procedure I had (double incision with nipple grafts), you can read more about it on my surgeon’s website here. I didn’t have drains, because he no longer advocates their use. The compression binder should take care of fluid build up, and he will drain any that’s accumulated when I see him for my post op appointment next week. Other than that detail, though, this is pretty accurate.

If you’re interested in the truly gory details, I found a video on YouTube of the same surgery performed by a surgeon in the US. The basic procedure is similar, although the exact details might be different – I don’t think I had any liposuction.

I’m very glad I didn’t watch it before I had my surgery. It’s not for the fainthearted and I definitely don’t recommend you watch it while eating. But it’s utterly fascinating. What with the nipple resizing cookie cutter, and the staple gun they used on his nipples, I now feel rather like a cross between the Great British Bake Off and a primary school art project.

 

Ring Theory: How to support someone in crisis, from a transgender perspective

A couple of years ago, when a mutual friend was going through a hard time, someone I know shared a link to an article in a Facebook Group.

How not to say the wrong thing by Silk and Goldman.

I recommend reading the full article, because it explains Ring Theory beautifully in the context of someone with a physical illness. But the theory also works well from a transgender perspective.

In a nutshell, Ring Theory is about how to offer appropriate support to someone who is going through a crisis, while acknowledging the ripple effect of that crisis and how it also hurts people who are close to that person. It recognises that they may need support too.

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The idea of it is that the person who is going through something difficult is at the centre of the rings. Then the people most directly affected by the crisis are in the next circle: partner/spouse or parents/children depending on the situation*. Close friends and family of the person in the centre come next, followed by the wider circle of friends/more distant family and then acquaintances/neighbours etc.

The rules for supporting the people in the circles are very simple.

Comfort in. Dump out.

You offer comfort towards the centre of the circle, and dump/vent your own worries/anxieties and anger outwards.

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In my model, I have the person who is transitioning at the centre of those circles. The trans person gets to vent and offload on people whom they trust to listen without judgement. But the people supporting them need to take their struggles with that person’s transition elsewhere. Just like you would (I hope) never tell a person who has cancer how hard it is for you to see them sick and in pain, a trans person probably doesn’t want to hear how challenging it is for you that they are transitioning.

We don’t need our friends and family to tell us that there is a period of mourning as the person they thought they knew fades away to be replaced by this new, authentic version of ourselves. I’m not saying for a minute that those feelings of grief/loss aren’t completely valid and understandable. But expressing that to the trans person can be harmful.

Believe me. We already know.

The fear and guilt over hurting our loved ones is what keeps so many of us in the closet for so long. We’ve beaten ourselves up about it in therapy, we’ve lost sleep over it, we’ve learned to live with that guilt in order to move forward. We get that it’s hard for you too, and we hate that we’re the cause of pain or distress for people we care about. But when you need to vent about your frustrations, please do that to someone else, because we already have enough of our own pain to deal with and can’t take on yours as well.

~~~

* For someone like me who has children, my kids are obviously directly affected. But I exclude them from the comfort in/dump out rule because being their parent takes priority for me. So they are allowed to dump on me as much as they like.

Toilet Trouble

In which I overshare about how fucking stressful it is being trans and needing to pee.

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Before I realised I was transgender, I already knew about the whole transgender toilet issue (or bathroom issue for Americans). I was aware of it in a theoretical way, and was full of righteous anger about the discriminatory bathroom laws in some US states. I remember thinking about how hard it must be to have to deal with that, especially early in transition — or for people who identify and/or present in a non binary way.

I wasn’t wrong.

And even if you live in a country without prohibitive laws on which toilet you use, it’s still pretty bloody stressful.

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I’ve now reached the stage where it’s an issue for me on a personal level. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a pub in Fowey (a small town in Cornwall) and went to the women’s toilets as normal. It was empty when I went in, but when I came out of the cubicle there were three young women chatting. As I emerged, they all went silent and stared at me. Then one of them said “Oh!” in a tone that made me feel like shit on her shoe. It’s hard to be sure what prompted that reaction, because I didn’t stick around to ask why. But given that people are starting to call me ‘sir’ occasionally, I’m 99% sure that it was because she initially read me as male.

That was the first time I’ve been made to feel unwelcome or discriminated against in a female space. But it’s understandable now people are starting to read me as male. The last thing I want to do is make women feel unsafe or threatened. So as a result of that, I’ve started to try and use male toilets at least some of the time — because I no longer feel comfortable using the women’s.

But I don’t feel remotely comfortable in the men’s either. I’m still in an awkward non-binary limbo as far as my presentation goes. I’m occasionally read as male at first glance, but usually read as female when I have any significant interaction with people because of my voice (which hasn’t changed much yet). Because of this, using the men’s toilets is a huge source of anxiety. I know it’s highly unlikely I’ll be challenged, because I don’t look too out of place, and most men don’t notice or care who is in the toilet with them (unlike women). But the worry is that if I was challenged, then I’d have to justify my presence there and my voice would give me away as something other than a cisgender man. That’s tied into uncomfortable feelings of shame for me, feelings about not being ‘male enough,’ and about not belonging in that place.

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There is also a deep fear for my safety. When you’ve been socialised as female you are taught from an early age to be wary of male strangers, and to avoid all-male spaces. Sorry to all the cisgender men I know and love. I know it’s #notallmen, but those are the messages most people raised as female internalise. Because of this I still feel unsafe walking alone in the dark, and I still find it hard to get in a taxi with a male driver, or to be alone in a train carriage with another man. So going against that ingrained instinct and walking into a public male toilet — not knowing who else might be in there — is utterly terrifying to me.

Yesterday I travelled to London and spent the day there. I used it as an opportunity to experiment a little with which toilets I used. I felt okay using the men’s at Bristol Parkway station. It was early, and quiet… but not too quiet. I couldn’t face the bustle of busy toilets at Paddington (either the male or female ones) so I used the loo on the train instead. I ‘manned up’ and used the men’s in a restaurant at lunchtime — and nearly had a panic attack in the process because there were two other guys in there at the time — but I did it, and managed to avoid all eye-contact or the need to speak. Yay me.

On the journey home (via Salisbury because of train cancellations) I didn’t feel safe using the men’s at the station, because there were groups of rowdy, drunk blokes around. So I used the women’s, and put up with feeling out of place and having some of the women looking at me oddly. I also felt weirdly humiliated by the experience of having to use the women’s, as if I was misgendering/outing myself by doing it. That familiar feeling of shame again. (I hate shame. I think it’s my least favourite emotion, and I should probably write a whole blog post about how shame is inextricably linked with being transgender for me).

So, this is my life now. Whenever I’m out in public and need a wee I have to think about these things. Where can I go? Will there be cubicles in the men’s? Will I feel safe? Will I make women feel unsafe?

It sucks. And this is why we need more gender neutral toilets.

So, if you’re ever in a public toilet and notice someone who is gender ambiguous, or who you think might be in the wrong bathroom. Don’t stare, don’t challenge them, just let them get on and do what they need to do.

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Chances are, they’re in exactly the right place and they just need to pee too.

Self-image, Dysphoria and Seeing the Whole Person

Navel gazing ahoy…

I’m now three months into hormone therapy, and the changes are subtle – almost imperceptible. Yet things must be changing, because before I started on T nobody ever gendered me correctly. I’d get called ‘madam’ in shops, and have polite elderly gentlemen insisting on holding doors open for me (usually when I was trying to hold doors open for them) and saying “Ladies first.” Now, people are starting to read me as male, or to at least be unsure enough that they hesitate before calling me madam. Thank God.

Even so, I can still count on one hand the number of times I’ve knowingly been read as male” the guard on the train; another guy on a train; a bloke serving me in a pub; a group of Mean Girls in a womens’ toilet in a pub in Cornwall (who triggered a wave of transgender-related toilet anxiety. Thanks for that ladies).

The weird thing is: whatever these people are seeing, is not what I see when I look in the mirror. But when I started pondering on this, I realised that don’t see myself as a whole at all. I see myself in pieces. This may well not be a trans-specific issue,  I’m sure some cisgender people might experience a similar disconnect for different reasons, but in my case it’s related to gender dysphoria.

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I spent years thinking I was female and hating my body (also not a trans specific issue), but not understanding exactly why I hated it. I suffered with disordered eating for a long time, and it’s only now that I realise I wasn’t trying to diet/exercise to make the most of my feminine assets. Rather, I was trying to lose my curves and change my body into a more androgynous shape. Without the help of testosterone, I could never do enough, so I was constantly dissatisfied.

During those unhappy times, I learned to dissociate from my body as a coping strategy. I got remarkably good at ignoring the bits I disliked: hips, chest, stomach – anything soft and squishy basically; and focusing on the parts I was happier with: my shoulders, my relatively square waist/torso, the muscle I gained in the gym.

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This dissociation has continued since I’ve started to transition. Most of the time I can filter out the things that cause me dysphoria even when I look in the mirror. But as a result, I have no idea how I look to others. I’m so focused on individual features (sorted into a mental checklist of like/hate/indifferent) that I don’t see the whole. The only times I can see how I appear to others is in a photograph, and then I’m usually disappointed. I think I have the opposite of body dysmorphic disorder, because in my head I’m at least 5’10” and have Channing Tatum’s butt. Reality sucks.

Yet my self-consciousness is such that I don’t expect that magic invisibility shield to work for anyone else. On the contrary, I always expect other people to immediately zero in on the feminine characteristics that I usually avoid seeing in myself. So, when someone calls me sir, or interacts with me in any other way that makes me think they’ve read me correctly as male, I’m still terribly surprised about it.

I guess when we look at other people, we see the whole. When assessing someone’s gender, which we do unconsciously in a split second, we weigh up the visible evidence so the balance tips one way or the other (because as a society, most of us like to put people in binary boxes – not saying it’s right, just saying it’s a fact). As I keep taking T, the tiny physical changes are gradually starting to tip the scales towards Male, which feels good, even if I can’t see it myself yet.

I’m looking forward to the day when being gendered correctly isn’t something to get excited about any more. I wonder how long it will take? And I wonder how long my brain will take to catch up with that reality?

Visibility and Authenticity

Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility.

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Being forty-five years old, married with two kids, and living in a small community, I never had the choice of flying under the radar if I was going to come out and transition. This was one of the fears that held me back. Because being visible isn’t always easy.

Many transgender people would put themselves in physical danger by disclosing their status, and plenty of others just want to live their lives and not have everyone know their history. The choice to not disclose is a valid one and nobody should ever feel pressure to be ‘out’ if they don’t want to be.

However, given that I have no option but to be open about my transition and ‘female history,’ I decided to try writing about my experiences in the hope that it might be useful to others.

When I first started blogging, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about sharing something so personal. Historically I’ve never liked writing about myself (preferring to tell the stories of fictional characters rather than my own) because I was always incredibly anxious about how other people perceived me. In retrospect, I think a lot of my social anxiety was based on me not having a strong sense of self. I didn’t know who I was, and I defined myself through other people – so their good opinion really mattered to me. Since coming out and living authentically, I feel more confident about who I am, and therefore I’m less desperate for other people’s approval.

If I can help just one trans or gender questioning person on their path, or help a cisgender person be a better ally to other trans people in their life, then pouring a bit of my soul out onto a page is worth it.

And since today is a day for spreading the word here are some useful links:

Transgender FAQ: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/transfaq

Tips for allies: http://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies

And a shout out for non-binary people:
http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/myths-non-binary-people/

Peace out ❤

 

Glass Walls: Two Months on T Update

This morning I did my third testosterone shot — all on my own with no supervision, yay me — and I figured I should do an update on how it’s going. I was intending to write a brief update, but it turned out really wordy so you might want to get a cup of tea or a glass of wine or something before you settle in to read.

The physical changes are slow but definitely happening, which is reassuring. I always knew it would take time, so the tiny changes that are only noticeable to me are still good. So far there isn’t much that would be obvious to anyone else, but here are the things I’ve noticed (that I’m prepared to share here, because there is such a thing as TMI).

Vocal changes

I had a small but noticeable (to me) voice drop very early on, within a week of my first T shot. It’s more obvious in my singing voice than my speaking voice, but I gained a few new notes at the bottom of my range, and have also gained power and resonance where previously my voice was very weak. I used to be a soprano, now I’m a solid alto.

My speaking voice is very slightly different too I think, but mostly you might just assume I had a cold so it’s not very impressive yet.

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In my dreams…

Facial hair

Around week five I noticed that my single lonely pre-T chin hair had some company. Since then they’re coming in… well, not exactly thick and fast, but there are new additions whenever I look closely. They’re currently very uneven and mostly showing up on the right side of my face so I’ll be shaving/trimming until they get to a point where I can grow it out without looking ridiculous, which may take months or even years.

Body shape/weight

I’ve gained about 2-3 lbs and I’m pretty sure it’s all muscle. I feel leaner/firmer and have gained an inch on my waist and chest, but lost half an inch on my hips so I’m happy with that. I have been working out regularly and watching what I eat.

Appetite

My body thinks I’m a teenage boy, and although I might be gaining muscle I’m not growing upwards so I need to be careful not to trust my appetite. The hunger has mostly been manageable so far, but occasionally I find myself raiding the fridge in a food frenzy. Tracking calories via My Fitness Pal is helping!

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Energy levels

In some ways I have more energy and stamina when I’m actually doing things, but in the afternoon/evening I sometimes feel wiped out. That was more noticeable in the first month, maybe while my body was adapting to the new hormones? I’m sleeping pretty well, although I had some serious night sweats in month one — presumably hormonal as I’m fast-tracking the menopause now.

Skin

Yuck. Remember greasy puberty skin and hair? Yeah. I have that now. It comes and goes a bit during the month (it’s at its worst between shots when my T levels peak), but when it’s bad it’s really bad. Of course that also means I’m more prone to spots. But so far the spots from T are less evil than the oestrogen spots I used to get. They’re superficial and tend to clear up more quickly whereas the oestrogen spots hung around so long I felt like I should charge them rent. The acne situation may well get worse before it gets better though, and I’m resigned to that.

Mood/emotions

Obviously it’s really hard to tell what’s down to the hormones, and what’s down to me being happy about the fact that I’m taking the hormones. Plus, just to muddy the waters further I also started on ADHD meds about 3 weeks after I started T so that could be a factor too.

So with that disclaimer…. Generally my mental health has been really good since starting T. I’ve felt less anxious, more positive, more stable, more confident, and more able to cope with things. I had a slight blip around week 3-4 when I felt horrible for a couple of days, but I think that was when my T levels dropped before my 2nd shot. In month two my levels felt more stable (based on the physical symptoms), and I didn’t get the mood drop.

I think that’s everything… It’s been a busy week in blog land. I’m terrible with consistency so they all came at once this week. I might be quiet for a while now, but will be back with another update at some point when I have something new to say.

Thanks for reading and taking an interest.

Gender and Sexuality

When I came out as transgender it didn’t occur to me that I’d need to come out as gay/queer too. But it seems this isn’t necessarily obvious to everyone.

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As I started coming out to friends and family, I was surprised to be asked by more than one person things along the lines of,

“So… are you still attracted to men?” or “Does that mean you like women now?”

To me, it’s always been completely obvious that gender and sexuality are two quite distinct things. You can be cisgender, and be either asexual or anywhere on the Kinsey Scale between gay and straight, and the same applies if you’re transgender.

Gender and sexuality are unrelated.

Just to break it down into some concrete examples because I think maybe that helps…

If someone who previously identified as a lesbian comes out FTM transgender – they’re now a straight guy.

Someone like me who previously identified as a straight woman – now a gay guy.

Previously straight man who has come out as MTF transgender – now a lesbian.

Previously bisexual man who has come out as a trans woman – now a bisexual woman.

With nonbinary gender identities it’s more complicated to express, but the principle is the same. It’s not the sexual orientation that changes, it’s just how it’s defined by your gender that changes. You’re still attracted to what you were attracted to before.

Disclaimer: Of course human sexuality is infinitely complicated and there are some people who may experience a shift in their attraction, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule.

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The Kinsey Scale (Source: Wikipedia)

 

I think sometimes it can be less clear cut if someone transitions at a stage in their life where they’re still working out their sexuality as well as their gender. Also perhaps some transgender people are more ready to explore their sexuality after transition where previously dysphoria was holding them back. But transitioning doesn’t change your sexuality, and in my case I’ve already worked through my sexual identity crisis.

So, where I would previously have put myself as a Kinsey 1 (mostly attracted to the opposite sex). Now I would call myself a Kinsey 5 (mostly attracted to the same sex).

 

What’s Behind the Facade?

When I open Facebook in the morning, I’m often shown one of those Facebook Memories.

What used to be an amusing trip down memory lane for me, has now become a bit of a minefield. Most of the time I get cute photos of my kids when they were smaller, or cats doing funny things. But occasionally—like this morning—I get shown a photo of me from what I like to think of as one of my overcompensation phases, and those make me shudder.

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Spoiler: This isn’t me.

One of the things that I often feel I have to justify as a transman who came out late in life, and who appeared to live very happily as female for many years, is how it’s possible that I didn’t know sooner.

But you used to be so feminine…

To be fair, I spent 90% of my time in jeans and hoodies, but yes. There were times that I wore dresses and makeup, and that’s what people often remember about me.

I can’t share the photo that popped up this morning, because I deleted it in a kneejerk reaction. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it. You can’t transition at age forty-five and realistically expect to delete your entire female history—and I don’t want to. But that particular picture made me uncomfortable so it’s gone, which is a shame really because it’s a perfect example of how what you see on the outside often bears no relation to what was going on on the inside.

What the world saw was a smiling woman dressed for a party in a short colourful dress, jewellery, makeup and high heeled boots.

But what I remember was that I never really liked that dress because it was too ‘girly’ and felt completely wrong on me.

I remember the jewellery felt weird and tacky and ‘too much.’

I remember those boots were too high, too tight around my toes, and made a clacking sound as I walked that made me feel self conscious.

I remember that whenever I made the effort to dress in something feminine for a party, I always felt like a kid in dressing up clothes, or a man in drag.

And most of all, I remember a deep sense of shame that I was ‘crap at being female’ and wondering why that was.

Well now I know. And next time I wear heels? I really will be a man in drag 😉

TL;DR: Never assume you know what’s going on in someone’s head. There is no such thing as ‘not trans enough,’ and overcompensation is a thing that happens.

Edited to add: I do realise that plenty of cis women don’t enjoy wearing very feminine clothes and that doesn’t mean they’re all transmen in denial. I’m not casting aspersions on anyone’s femininity here, just blogging about my own personal journey. 

Bravery or Survival?

You’re so brave

You’re amazing*

You’re inspirational

Trans people get this a lot.

I’ve heard these things so many times already, and while normally I try to take a compliment graciously, these type of comments make me feel a little uncomfortable (only a little, so please don’t freak out if you’ve said this to me). I’ve seen other trans people saying they feel the same about being told they’re brave/inspiring, so I know I’m not alone in this. In this blog post I wanted to try and explain why it bothers me.

Disclaimer: I do understand that these sort of comments come from a place of support. I don’t want to sound churlish, or make anyone feel guilty for saying or thinking them. I’m just being honest about why they make me feel awkward, because I think it’s something that’s worth saying.

Imagine you’re in a burning building. A tall burning building—maybe a hotel—and the fire escapes are blocked. You run to the roof as the fire spreads, and the building is starting to creak ominously.

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You look down, and through the smoke you can see a swimming pool. You’re high enough up that jumping into the pool isn’t a guaranteed escape. You might risk injuring, or even killing yourself on the fall, but with the fire getting closer and the building about to collapse underneath you, you don’t have a choice anymore.

Stay and die in the fire, or jump and hope?

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Jumping is an act of survival, not one of bravery. And that (to me) is how it feels to come out as transgender.

Bravery implies a choice, and nobody chooses to be transgender. They just are. And coming out and transitioning is simply dealing with that reality. Personally, I don’t see it as an act of bravery. I’m just living my life in the best way I can.

*I am amazing, obviously. But that has nothing to do with me being transgender 😉