Oh Right, Write About the Operation. Finally.

This blog seems to have about the same energy as I do these days! Oh well, it is summer and being lazy seems appropriate.

I should at least write about my Gender Reassignment Surgery seeing as I am now over two months post op. I usually try to meditate on posts to this blog first, but since that isn’t happening I think I will just “wing it” so at least something gets written!

The operation itself was simple in some ways. Dr. Brassard and his team have a well oiled machine and once I showed up at the door of the care residence, the lovely Asclepiade, it was just a matter of not running away. I did almost do that initially, when it all became very real to me that I was actually doing this. I had to take a little walk and think about choices and I gave myself permission to rack up those credit cards and run away to… well I was pretty much stuck in Canada as I don’t have a current passport. But Moose Jaw, maybe?

Instead I returned to the residence, had supper with the patients who had the operation the week before, and tried to not think about how I would soon be walking the “penguin waddle” like them. Before I knew it, the next evening I was at the clinic next door, settled into my bed with the redoubtable “Buttons”, my teddy bear who had put up with being washed and tumbled-dried at home, then stuffed into a carry-on bag for a 5 hour flight. All just to be with me. I have a lot more respect for that little bear now. He was solid.

He did have to stay behind in bed, on the morning of May 9, 2012, as they wheeled me away towards the operating room. I was the first surgery of the day, and throughout the next ten days I seemed to have seniority on my roommate, which I thought was appropriate, being her elder. I was surprised by how calm I was about the surgery. I suppose just feeling in such capable and knowing hands helped. And this was something I had worked hard to get and needed to do for myself. It was a good thing after all, even if it was far beyond the realm of my life experience.

I actually awoke once during the surgery, an event I didn’t recall until some days later. It was at a moment where the doctors were using a fair amount of force down there and I woke wondering what was going on. It only took me a second or two to remember I was supposed to be having surgery, and once I was satisfied that this was actually still in progress I closed my eyes again and didn’t wake until I was being wheeled into the recovery room.

The next 48 hours are a bit hazy. I remember the simple pleasure of eating chicken broth that night, how wonderful it seemed. I wasn’t in much pain, thank you magic drugs, and was happy to just cuddle Buttons and pass the time reading, staring out the window, texting, or trying to make my roommate laugh, because she told me it hurt when she laughed. I’m nice like that.

I was intrigued by the whole process more than anything. For the first night my legs were encased in cuffs that automatically inflated and deflated all night long, like puffing dragons, keeping my circulation going. There were bits and pieces attached to me, and people coming and checking on things once in a while. They had me up and standing the morning after surgery, then walking around a bit later in that day. I was sore and stiff, and a bit unsteady, but overall I felt good and was proud to walk around the clinic foyer with my butt barely covered, dancing with my IV pole.

Two days post-op I was moved back to the residence care and settled into my room with my roommate, who I was still trying to drive crazy. I’m nice like that.

The next few days were more challenging. The staff at Asclepiade are amazing, so caring and wonderful, but they are like drill sergeants when it comes to hygiene and self-care. There was so much to remember and worries of dire consequences haunted me as I went through my new routines. Each day brought one more threshold of healing – the packing off, the stent out, the catheter out, until after 5 days I was free of all the bits and pieces and dealing with just my own body again.

It really is an amazing thing they have done. It wasn’t pretty at first of course. In fact my body was angry. Someone messed around pretty good with things that had been, physiologically, working fine. My brain was having some trouble dealing with the changes too. After 50 years things were wired into me, so this has been a process of re-wiring and re-routing nerves and sensory signals.

I spent ten days post-op at Asclepiade, showing any and all my new parts. It was just what one did. We were all there, patients and staff alike, for the same reason. I had to remind myself when I flew back to Vancouver on May 18, that in the outside world people would not wish to see my modifications. I had to re-learn modesty, which probably has never been a strong trait in me to start with.

It was a very intense, transporting experience all in all. It took me weeks to start settling back into my old life on the West Coast. And I am still in the process of settling into my new body form, although one of the first emotional reactions I had to the body changes was how familiar it all felt to me. I’m not sure where that is from, that inner knowing I felt connect as I embraced my changes.

Some people have a moment of sheer bliss after surgery. I never really did. I think my last post in this blog may explain some of that. For me this surgery was never about making me anything but more comfortable in my own body. I had accepted I was already female years ago. GRS was not going to make me any more a woman than I already knew myself to be. Maybe to others, but not in my own mind.

There is a calm comfort in myself now. A settling of my spirit.

The more emotional aspect has been to the after care, to feeling some discomfort and lack of energy, and feeling less connected to the day-to-day world. I think that is true of many people who are healing or dealing with long-term health issues. There is a sense of falling out of step with the world. I thought I would enjoy it more, the peace, the excuse to laze around and read (which I am very good at actually). It has in fact been difficult to just let the healing happen. There is a vigorous regime of self-care for many months post op which gets old fast.

But it has all been worth it. It is so comforting to be on the other side of this now, to be healing and settling into the rest of my life.

Now I just have to live it, fully and completely, in harmony with my own body at last.

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This is Not a Sex Change

Okay, so it has been a long time since my last post. That was then. This is now. And here is a new post.

In two weeks, to this day, I am having Gender Reassignment Surgery in Montreal. May 9, 2012.

My life is very busy preparing, in all manner of ways. We are in the process of cleaning up our house so life will be simpler when I am back and healing up. There are many items I have had to purchase for my time in Montreal and after surgery. And most importantly I am preparing my mind, body and spirit for this journey through the rabbit hole and into Wonderland.

There are many reasons for me to have GRS. A very practical reason is because without it, Canadian governments refuse to get with the program and will not change the gender marker on my most basic identification, my birth certificate. That means if I were to apply for a passport without GRS, I would be listed as male, even though I, and everyone in my life, knows me as female now. Even though I AM female. With a passport that has a gender marker incongruent to my appearance, under Canadian law, an airline MUST refuse me passage or face a steep fine. You can see the problem here. And you can see why Transgender persons are upset at this relatively new law in Canada. Because not everyone has had the surgery yet or ever will.

In Ontario this past week, the Human Rights Tribunal ordered the provincial government to change the requirement of proof of surgery (it doesn’t have to be GRS for a male to female, it can also be an Orchiectomy, which is basically castration), in order for a Transgender MTF to change the gender marker on their birth certificate. Personally, I think this is a step forward.. Not everyone has access to surgery and not everyone feels they need it to live fully as themselves. The way the laws are now, people are either forced into surgery or risk discrimination and harassment.

It always amuses, and saddens, me when I hear the outcry that if laws on gender identification are “relaxed” (progressed is my word for it), then anyone will be able to switch genders at will, for who knows what nefarious reasons? Really? People will just try on being male or female, with the expense and trouble of changing all their identification and social status?

Transitioning, changing your social status from one gender to another, is not an easy process, and takes a real commitment of self. You only do it if you HAVE to. You don’t do it because it seemed like time for a change or something. Most people are secure in their gender identity. The only people who officially will change gender roles are those of us who understand that our natural gender, the way our minds and hearts have been set from birth, is different from our physical gender assignment. And there are checks in the system to make sure you understand what it is you are taking on when you transition.

I am not having GRS for the purpose of fixing my birth certificate. And I am NOT having a “sex change”. That archaic expression leads to so much confusion. My gender at birth, internally, was female. I had a strong sense of it as a small child and I definitely know it to be true as an adult. But even I was confused as a child because when people transitioned it was always called a “sex change”, which to me meant that someone went from being a man to a woman. And that wasn’t something I could do, as I knew I wasn’t male in the first place.

When I read news articles today that use that ancient term, invariably the reporter is confused and thus confuses their readers. Because a “sex change” does imply that a person was one and is changing to the other, reporters often mix pronouns in a story, using the “before” pronoun when speaking of the person’s past, and then the “after” pronoun for the present. This cements in the public’s mind the notion that the subject has basically just “switched sides”. That’s not what being transgender is about. That’s definitely not what GRS is about.

I transitioned because I was already female. But because of the way I was born I was assigned male at birth, due to the complicated and highly evolved scientific method of determining gender at birth – looking between the legs. Fair enough. I was male then. Raised as male. Didn’t feel that way, but back then no one wanted to hear that so what’s a girl to do? But all through my life I knew I wasn’t male and my female identity formed my core deep inside. Transitioning, for me, was the process of ending the pretending and hiding and just allowing my true nature to come out.

I chose to be myself. It’s that simple. It has been a lot of work, and will be a lot more, to start living fully as myself, as I had to align myself into society’s terms. It was important to have the world see me for who I am. And it was natural for that to happen too, which helped make things easier for me. I just had to be myself.

GRS is not a part of making the world see the real me as this is between me and my Creator. This is my personal and private (well, fairly private), journey to bringing more harmony and peace to what has been a lifelong conflict. When I was very young I was tucking my legs in the bathtub and feeling okay for a few seconds as what I looked like then was what I knew I was always supposed to look like but didn’t, for some stupid reason.  So this is me fixing that, making those few seconds of peace carry on through the rest of my days.

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The Key to the Door of My Spirituality

It was a very large tomato. Heavy, red with orange streaks that were changing colours like the leaves on the trees these days. I found it at one of the lovely farmgates in my community and I kept it on the counter for a few days, letting it ripen more. Well, the truth is, it was such a beautiful tomato I could not bring myself to slice into it.

But whether I ate it or not, the tomato was on it’s way to nothingness, I suppose. So I ate it.

But, before I did, I found myself stopping to pay attention to what I had in my hand, and to appreciate, truly appreciate at a deep level, this amazing fruit. I thought of how it had grown – starting as a pretty yellow flower that the bees would visit, and from that emerged a round little green ball, which grew larger and larger as the days grew warmer. It obviously was a vigorous tomato and it soaked up the rains and the sun until it was large and firm and started turning colour. I thought about how it had been plucked from it’s branch, and how it came to be in my hand. I smelled it, felt the smoothness of the shiny skin, tested its firmness and noticed the weight in my hand. And then I did an impromptu prayer of gratitude for having received this amazing bounty.

This all came naturally to me, this flowing appreciation and celebration of my world, my life.

I thought about it later… how easily and thoroughly I was able to connect my spirit with the greater life force around me, and I thought about how this is rather a new thing for me. At least the clarity of my spirituality is. I would bump around with things before, but now…. well, it’s like having lived with allergies, being all clogged up, and then finding I can breathe free and easily.

Why? Because I am living IN my body finally.

There are many ways we end up living uncomfortably with our own bodies – illness, assaults, traumas, and in my case, being born with the wrong gendered body. Often when we are in this displaced state we can feel the wrongness, feel the pain, sadness, frustration and anger. We sometimes turn to drugs and alcohol, or risky behaviour, to either numb us or to try and wake us from that numb state. That just makes it worse, though. We spiral down and down, and our spirits cannot see out of our windows because they are spinning too quickly.

I have come a long way with my own body, come to a lot of acceptance and love of self. To do that I did have to use medical science to change it and I will do more because I know I need to. There are still windows spinning around my spirit that need to be steadied. My social transition has also helped me accept and love my body, because I am now seen the way I truly am, and my gender conflicts are lessened. It is easier to love myself, and thus easier to touch the divine love that courses through all that is beautiful and profound in life.

Being true to my spirit, forgiving all the wrongness within and without, has been the key to opening the door to my spiritual path. It has allowed me to find gratitude in all things and to truly celebrate the gift of a lovely red tomato.

the big tomato next to a little pumpkin bought at another farmgate.

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Climbing to a New Outlook

As I was walking the dogs down a sunlit dappled trail, where eager leaves were leaping from the trees to be the first to Fall, I  suddenly stopped and thought, “Oh my god, I am going to have THAT surgery!”

How did this happen? It was unthinkable at one time, for a long time, such as all my life. Even when I started hormone therapy I knew I would never have surgery. That was for other people. Ah, but that is what I had also thought about HRT. I would read about how the growth of breasts and the, er…. shrinkage, was irreversible, and think “Oh wow! I would never do that! Thank goodness I don’t feel like I need to take hormones.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the female. As I moved along my path, slowly and cautiously at first, I became more alive. It felt like lights were being turned on inside me, after years of being a shadowy dark place lit only by a dim bulb. It’s not that I was a dim bulb, but my knowing of self and comfort of being was so deeply shadowed that it always felt…. dark inside. As I started gender therapy, hormones, began living full time female, and changed my name and gender identification where I could, I just started lighting up and coming alive. I never imagined it would be this powerful and enlightening, my transformation.

Transitioning is  kind of like climbing a mountain. At the bottom you can’t see a lot, and you really have no idea what it is like up there. As you climb and start knowing the changing terrain, you start getting more perspective. You start understanding the bigger picture better, and ahead of you the way to the summit becomes clearer. Well, unless it’s covered in cloud, but you still have a better idea of where the summit is, and just need to wait for the clouds to dissipate.

From the bottom part of the mountain, the idea of Gender Reassignment Surgery seemed not only daunting, but unnecessary. Or I hoped it was.  But as I rose, as I settled into my true self and understood exactly how powerful and alive it made me feel, what was still blocking me and causing me pain became much clearer. And the idea that I could do something about that pain became clearer too. What seemed daunting from below, was now possible, indeed necessary. Shifting my vantage point I could see what more I needed to do for myself.

No matter what it is in life, sometimes you just can’t see well enough from where you are. If you move, if you start climbing, new possibilities will unfold before you. Sometimes we get stuck. We stay at the bottom of the mountain and tell ourselves that we couldn’t possibly get to the top, but if we start climbing, the world starts unfolding before us and we can see our way more clearly.

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The Mermaid’s Memory

Once again, my blog is being neglected.  I have been trying to post here, but lately everything I write seems… terrible. I suppose I have been trying to keep a certain standard here and when something just doesn’t work I do not even begin to know how to fix it. I’m sure some of what I have been working on lately will make it to this space soon enough. The truth is, I need to blog a lot more. Use it or lose it, right?

Generally, I write a blog post in Word first and then work it until I am satisfied and copy and paste it to this blog. I often tweak it a bit once I see how it looks on WordPress. But tonight, I’m writing directly into the posting box, so this is live. Well, kind of.

I was going to post something I wrote tonight which I am still not happy with, but I have been inspired from reading some of my old LiveJournal entries from a few years ago, so change of plans.

That was a challenging time for me. I had kicked down so many walls I hid behind for my entire life, and I was exposed and not quite sure what my next move was. At that time, in January of 2008, I had come to a crossroads and needed to move in some direction. One cannot stand at a crossroads too long – the devil visits after some time. Everyone knows that.

I attended my very first trans-support group meeting on the same January night that I told my mom I was transgender. I had told my younger brother in June of the previous year and over that time I was sure he had told my mom, as since then she had been making provocative remarks to me. I was SURE she knew, and it was just a matter of me making it official.

I guess moms have powers of illusion because my mom did NOT know, it turns out. When I told her, her reply was simply, “Huh. That’s weird. Well, I can’t help you there.” It wasn’t what I had expected and I was happy it wasn’t a hostile reply. So many people I know have been literally disowned by their families for daring to be themselves. It’s sad.

The support meeting went well and one thing I noted was I didn’t feel out of place there. As much as I was trying to fight it still, being transsexual, and needing to transition, were still on the radar. Shortly afterwards I found a therapist in Vancouver who specializes in gender identity issues. I was pretty messed up when I first saw her. Two years later she told me that when I first walked in the door she hadn’t given me much chance for a successful transition. I was lugging around too much baggage, stuck in addictions,  and had so little self confidence and self esteem.

Tonight I read a post I had done at that time, about how impossible everything felt to me. Back then, I could not imagine what my future would look like if I transitioned. I couldn’t even imagine what I would look like (turns out it’s more like my mom and other female relatives than Nicole Kidman, which is a bit of a shock). And yet I could not imagine staying where I was, or worse, going back. Reading this today, I am filled with pride at yester-me, that person who pushed us off shore and set sail for this new found land of True Self. That was not an easy thing to do, for I had lived a life of gender repudiation, and declaring myself to be one or the other, male or female, seemed to cross my convictions. Except, maybe they weren’t conviction so much as they were a way of defusing the bomb that had ticked in me since birth. If gender did not matter, then what did it matter that I was born the wrong gender physically? This was the premise that enabled me to limp through life.

I shall let yester-me tell her feelings and fears, from January 16, 2008:

“So trying to conjure up this vision of completion, progress, happiness, fulfillment….seems slippery. I sometimes think I almost get it, that I could almost do this thing for myself….and then it slides through my fingers and I wonder how the hell I think I could ever acheive something so monumental and life changing.

          And yet…. there’s this urge that’s been rising up in me to start swimming, to be done with the witless drifting and strike out for land before it’s too late. But the currents drag me, and I am scared I may swim the wrong way, or strike out for land that is too far to reach, or worse yet, reach land but discover it remains foreign soil under my feet.

          I’m not sure I can occupy binary gender land.
          So why would I try?

          But this Sea of Drifting isn’t doing anything for me. I’m tiring. I think I see blood in the water.”

So I swam.

I put my head down and just started swimming. In June of 2009, I rode over the hard white water of the reefs, and then pulled myself up and onto the beach. I was finally on solid ground, after a lifetime of floundering. I was home.

"Washed Ashore - Mermaid" by Lauren Kelly Small



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On Getting a Date For Gender Reassignment Surgery

In May of 2012, I will be visiting a very handsome and charming doctor in Montreal. He’s the doctor selected by British Columbia’s Medical Services Plan, and many satisfied women, to perform a surgery which will change my outdoor plumbing to indoor plumbing. I can hardly wait!

This is what in my youth people called “a sex change operation.” Today it is called Gender Reassignment Surgery, a much more classy and elegant name. My youthful impression of the phrase “sex change” are of ridiculed, desperate, lost souls “trapped in the wrong body.” It was usually accompanied by snickers and rude remarks about these poor deranged people. No wonder I hid who I was, not only from the world but even from myself, for so many years.

But I do remember way back then being full of wonder about it all. How could these people be so brave? Didn’t they realize the world mocked them? And behind all that fear for these kindred spirits was envy. They had risked so much and now they could look between their legs and feel… normal. Like things were the way they should be.

Even as young as 5, I would experiment, tucking the dangling parts back between my legs and closing them, and the sight of that nice smooth Y shape would delight me. I knew, somehow, that I should look like that. I knew I should look like my girl friends. In the bath I would close my legs and hide things and then build breasts with soap bubbles. It always felt so natural, so… right.

Well, I don’t need soap bubbles anymore as hormones have built more lasting breasts, but I still cannot bear to see myself any other way than with that smooth Y.

And yet, when I considered requesting GRS, I would often quickly shake my head. It seemed too radical. Too dangerous. Too extreme. I worried I was too old. That I wasn’t a good candidate. That it would wreck a part of my body that functions okay, even if it messes with my mind. Indeed, I told myself that surgery was in fact a denial of my strong belief that gender is not determined by genitals. Science is finding out more and more about the complexities of gender identity and we are redefining some of our long held concepts. My own life showed me that genitalia type does not always equal gender.

I was angered by laws that would not allow me to change the gender marker on my birth certificate or passport without proof of surgery. I had legally changed my name, my social status, even the gender marker on my B.C. Driver’s License… but I still had to prove that I had the ‘proper’ genitals to be female. It seemed a way of forcing people to have a surgery that some may not be able to afford for health, financial or other reasons. I didn’t like feeling coerced into having surgery.

So why am I doing GRS after all? It wasn’t an easy decision. I have spent my life trying to avoid hospitals and especially doctors with sharp knives in their lab coats. The idea of surgery terrifies me. I’ve never had any surgery in my life. I came up with many reasons to talk myself out of going ahead with surgery. I realized what was driving me to build a case against GRS was fear, plain and simple. And when I removed that fear, when I asked myself, “if you knew it would be a breeze and easy, would you do it?” the answer was a resounding YES!!! I not only wanted this, I needed it. For peace of mind. For comfort of body. I like my body better than I ever have… and because of that I am actually living IN it for the first time. I feel real for the first time in my life, like I am fully here. Well… almost fully. There is this “no-go” zone between my legs. A land of “let’s just pretend we didn’t see that”. It throws me off balance all the time, shakes me out of my comfort and harmony of self. And I know it needs fixing.

I needed to make this decision on my own and I needed to understand why I would make it. I had to strip away all the peer pressure, the push by authority to “prove’ my gender, the feeling I needed to fall in line with the assumption some people make that I had to have had the surgery to transition. I had to find the real, pure, intention in me. A wise friend helped me see this. We were talking back and forth, as I agonized on whether I should go for GRS or not. And this friend wrote back one day saying, “If you do this, do it as a gift  of LOVE for your self.” That’s when I knew I was going to do it. Because that is exactly what GRS is for me – an act of love, a very powerful and personal gift, for my self, for that little girl in the bath, and for that crone on the rock looking back, smiling at the brave and wise woman who took a chance on herself.

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Change, you can change.

When I was about 3, my older brother, who was all of a wizened 4, and I stood one day at the edge of our front lawn, looking down at the 10 foot steep drop of brambles that fronted the lawn. We did everything together then, and we had come to a joint decision that this was it, this was the day to take the plunge that was long overdue. It may have been his idea but I remember thinking it was a very good idea. It was time for us to move on and rid ourselves of the crutches that had seen us through those difficult first years of life.

We looked at each other and nodded. On the count of three then. One, two, three! And we both threw our soothers out over the brambles, watching those well worn pieces of plastic sink into the tangle of the blackberries. We looked at each other and laughed. It was done. We would suck no longer.

It wasn’t all that difficult to do. We had hung onto the pacifiers far too long. Perhaps I felt a moment of unfairness  – he had gotten an extra year out of his, a year I was giving up – but I also felt an elation that I was free, and that doing it a year earlier than him made me more grown up. We did worry a bit about what our mom would have to say, but we knew it was time to move on. We were growing.

Growth can be very difficult, if not impossible, when you hang onto the old. If you never shed old skin, growth is constricted and painful. Letting go is a wonderful, scary, freeing thing. It brings new life, new possibility to you.

Transitioning was something I felt compelled towards, but when I thought about changing my life that much, it scared and bewildered me. I had no idea how to make that big of a change. So I made little ones, and as I did so I reflected on how each one made me feel, what they changed around me and in me. Each little change led to another. In a way, it was like I was a large room wired with interconnected switches, and as I switched each one on it showed me others and I moved to them and switched them on, until the entire room was blazing and humming with light. This transformation is the sum of all the little switches I flicked.

The first time I was seen and treated purely as female and heard myself referred to as “she” and “her”, it felt so natural and true, that switch stayed on. The first time I used the women’s washroom I felt so peaceful and at home, not nervous like I thought I would, and that switch stayed on. Not that I want to make my home in a washroom, mind you. All these small changes stuck and added up to the bigger one that people may see first, when they know I am transgender; that of moving from a life as male to a life as female.

I think this is a great way to change your life, by moving from light switch to light switch, making up the bigger change in the end. You can focus on each of those aspects and understand better what makes you hum. There are times though, when you need that leap of faith, that belief that you will survive making a big scary change. Sometimes you find yourself at the edge of the lawn and you just have to chuck that safety over and go for it.

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