Abstention

[Trigger Warning: medical squicky stuff, sexual abuse references]

This may be uncomfortable reading, but it will be very honest. I’m currently on antibiotics that mess with my mood, so this may also be more dark than it’s meant to be. End of warning.

Three times a day, I have a routine to go through, post-surgery. This involves dilating my neovagina with a narrow stent (a.k.a. a dilator), and then a fatter one, for ten minutes each. The stent in this case is a clear, colourless plastic dildoid thing with a tapered front end, sort of like a giant blunt pencil.

There’s more to this: I have to get set up, which takes about ten minutes (sterile wipes, baby changing mat to lie on, bowl of warm water with antibacterial stuff in, towel, water-based gel, paper kitchen towels — then clean everywhere crotch-related, before dilation). Then after the dilating, I tidy up, and then douche with warm water with iodine stuff in it (after next week, this will just be warm water), clean the stents and douche, dry myself carefully. The whole thing takes about an hour. I listen to music on random shuffle whilst doing the dilating.

So that’s the practical aspect. What I wanted to write about here, though, is the emotional aspect.

It’s been hard to admit this to myself before yesterday, but going through this routine is quite distressing, and I feel resistance to doing it. Yes, this is just partly because I’m still very tired from the surgery, and it’s quite an effort to go through all this (which includes walking down and up a flight of stairs twice each time, as my bathroom is downstairs). But it’s also for two other reasons.

The first is that inserting a stent into what is still essentially a healing wound is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful — and is therefore an abuse penetration trigger. This is hard to bear. Since yesterday, when I let it be true and was lying here with my stent inserted, sobbing my heart out, I was able to embrace the experience, and say to myself “Know this: if you so desire, nobody else is ever going to penetrate you again, ever. This hole is not for that purpose, unless you choose it to be so at some point. That power is solely yours.” Since this, today dilation has been easier, something has shifted, I’m not fighting myself.

The second reason, though, is just plain sorrow. When I was in my teens, I read Triton by Samuel Delany, in which someone in the far future (and on the moon Triton, natch) goes through a complete male-to-female body change (including gene manipulation) in under half an hour, and walks out sore, but essentially completely healed. That’s always been my dream, I suppose, but what I’m going through is a much more involved and medicalised experience, with pain and slow healing. But the worst part, the saddest part, is that every time I dilate, I’m reminded that because of a quirk of fate and prenatal hormones (or whatever the fuck made this happen), here I am trying on a daily basis to persuade my body not to heal up this artificial hole that I’ve had to have sculpted, because my body came out wrong.

I have something which, a few months from now when all the mad swelling has gone down, will pretty closely resemble a vagina, and that’s amazing. But it’s also an artifice that in many ways will never behave like a real vagina, and my body will require (less and less constant, it’s true) persuasion for the rest of my life to keep it how it should be.

Let me be clear: I’m really happy to have this, my body feels much more congruous and complete than it ever has, but I’ll always have to live with that sorrow too. So it is. I expect as we become more accustomed to each other, and all the healing happens, and I can live more normally and not spend three hours of every day persuading my body not to reject its new configuration, I will feel much more ease around all this. I’ll probably eventually forget about it for stretches of time, and that’ll be good. I just want to honour, right now, what I’m feeling right now about it — because the Post-Op Transwoman Bible™ says Thou Shalt Only Be Seen To Rejoice, and I want all my voices to be heard.

Oh, and fuckin’ antibiotics, if I never have to take them again it’ll be too soon.

By the way, the stent is named after some dentist who invented them. I was expecting some connexion with Stentor, the mythical singer who died after losing a singing competition with Hermes. But I like that abstention has “stent” in it, since it reflects my inner desire to abstain from dilation, and my need to let these stentorian voices sing out and be appreciated.

It amazes and amazes me, how over and over I have to discover that so much of my experienced pain is coming from resisting being conscious of uncomfortable feelings, whether physical or emotional. Let’s be soft out there, folks.

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Endless

[Trigger Warning: there will be some surgical talk here!]

Well, three weeks ago, after a wait of around 30 years, I had my Genital Repurposing Surgery, as I’ve come to call it… I should explain (since this has already been misunderstood by one person) that by this I don’t mean “I intend to employ my genitalia for different sexual purposes now” — since this has never had anything to do with sex. What I mean is that no, my pre-existing genitalia were (mostly) not “cut off”, but simply repurposed — or, as I’m also enjoying saying: upcycled :D. Or in fact, to employ a fun meme, basically my penis got divided by zero…

I’ve been back home for two weeks now, and am slowly finding myself able to move around more — though walking feels like I’m waiting to give birth to a pangolin, it’s definitely doable in short bursts now. I’ve been a little unlucky with some popped sutures, which are going to make healing a slightly more lengthy and involved process, but on the whole I’ve come out if this very well so far. This is the part I’d been waiting for, really; as a non-gendered trans* female, dysphoria has always been about the anatomy for me, more than anything else.

There are a few things I’d like to say, at this point. Some gratitude stuff, for a start. I’m incredibly grateful to live in a country where it’s legal to be trans*, where we have explicit rights, where our medical needs (if we have them, and within certain still rather gender-binary blinkers) are understood and met. My transition was paid for by the NHS, mostly, and that made it possible where it otherwise wouldn’t have been. This surgery took only 2 hours. Extraordinary — this makes it more ordinary, somehow, in a good way. So I’m very grateful to the surgeon and his crack team (heh) for keeping the whole thing as minimum-impact as possible, and to the nursing team who looked after me for the week afterwards, including through a tricky moment when things went a bit wrong.

What the hell, details: after one’s neovagina has been constructed, it is packed for a few days to let it “set” in its new shape, before being unpacked and then regularly dilated instead. For reasons nobody could understand (this had never happened before), my packing came out — so they had to repack it. If you want to know what that was like (I was conscious but on laughing gas for this), imagine trying to stuff a futon into a wine bottle. That’s the closest I can get to describing the experience.

Okay, you can uncross your legs now, no more medical detail. I’d just like to finish up the gratitude part by mentioning my fab girlfriend, who was with me when I had the surgery; my lovely visitors; my friend who drove me home after and stayed the night, and went shopping for me the next day. And myself: I spent two months before the surgery getting what exercise I could, and that’s been making a huge difference to how my recovery is going now, especially in terms if my core muscles.

So that’s all that. What I wanted to also write about, is what this does and doesn’t mean. In the minds of many people (including many trans* people), this must mean I’ve reached my goal, and it’s all over now. But I don’t consider my surgery to be the “end” of my transition. Actually, I have no idea when that will be, or even whether it will be. For a start, pragmatically I have major surgery to recover from, before my upcycled anatomy feels like simply a familiar part if me, rather than a medicalised and painful and puzzling new piece of kit. But seriously, I suspect I will spend the rest of my life still transitioning, discovering what difference this really makes to my experience of myself, and to other people’s experience of me too.

And there’s still way too much emphasis in trans* culture and in the media (and, I have to say, in the healthcare system too) on surgery being the City of Oz of transition. Listen: only some people who identify as trans* go through any obvious transition (and that need not cross any conventionally recognised sex/gender borders anyway), and only some people who transition want surgery to be part of that. I’m sick of the “hierarchy” of non-op < pre-op < post-op that you find on so many trans* forums, for example.

Oh, and I'm so tired of people (and once again, many of the culprits are in the healthcare posse) assuming that once I've recovered from surgery, I'll basically "get well sexually" and stop identifying as more or less asexual. Stop pathologising asexuality, it's so patronising! It's as bad as being a non-theist stuck among smug Christians.

So there it is: as part of my ongoing transition, I've had this surgery, and on it all still goes. Mainly, I look forward to being able to dance again, and releasing this pangolin into the wild.

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Iatrogenocide

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while (excuse the absence of apt and pretty pictures, I’m still flat on my back in hospital, writing this on a wee tablet thingy).

I had a very difficult three months earlier this year, and the fault lies largely at the feet of medication. I spent over a year on Tramadol (an opiate) for pain, whilst waiting for surgery to fix my dodgy urethra, and then spent two months at the start of this year coming off the Tramadol, post-surgery. That all went fine, until I actually stopped taking it altogether – at which point I spent a month having my body flail about uncontrollably every night, like a puppet with St Vitus’ Dance.

And then I was in the run-up to my genital upcycling surgery, and was anxious about getting anxious, since the Tramadol had actually helped with my PTSS symptoms, so I was persuaded to go onto Sertraline (aka Zoloft, Lustral). This is when the hell began. Two months of terror and anxiety and barely being able to go outside the flat. I assumed that this had been caused by a transphobic incident in the town where I live, so it took me two months to listen to my intuition and stop taking the Sertaline – at which point I got better practically overnight.

No more SSRIs for me.

*****

While I’m here, I’ll mention that I’m now halfway through the EMDR therapy (for my PTSS) that I spent 3 years trying to get access to – and it is so worth it. It’s been a very shamanic journey experience for me, and I’ve had some very powerful encounters – especially with the six-year-old girl me, who is ballsy as hell, and who publicly goes by the name Celestine (no kidding – but she has a secret name too).

*****

Anyway, here I am, flat on my back in hospital, and somewhere under all that swaddling is a set of female genitalia that I have yet to see. But my brain still thinks I have the Previous Occupant down there, so it’s going to be a fascinating opportunity to observe how the physical senses are mind-made (or mind-interpreted, anyway). I’ve had arousing thoughts a couple of times, just to see what that felt like, and my brain thinks I have a hard-on. Watch and learn, brain!

Retrofit FTW!

I’m currently flat on my back in hospital, having finally had my genital repurposing surgery yesterday!

It seems extraordinary to me that after 28 years of consciously waiting for this to happen, the op only took 2 hours.

I’m in very good hands down here in Brighton, and feeling very grateful to all the people in my life who have supported this happening, one way or another. I’ll write more when I’m less off my head on pain relief :D.

I will just add that my shorthand for my Genital Repurposing Surgery is “upcycling”…

X-celsior!

british passportOver here in the UK (I’m guessing that most people who read this are elsewhere, but who knows?) we have only two options on our passport for recording “sex” – the ubiquitous F and M.

A number of people (recently including me) have been trying to get the HM Passport Office (as it’s known this year – they keep changing their name) to follow the lead of Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, and add a non-gendered option, an X.

To date, everyone who has written to the UKPO saying “I need this, please” has received a boilerplate response, basically (and insultingly) saying “We are not aware of a need for this.” Really. That’s what everyone who has expressed a need has been told.

And see here for Complicity’s very comprehensive breakdown of HMPO’s crap façade of a recent “review” of the issue.

Who does need this? (you may ask…) Well for starters, anyone who feels, as I do, that there’s no good reason to show a person’s sex on their identification documentation in the first place.

And then there are those of us who do not identify as having a binary gender (or any gender at all) or sex, and who feel misgendered every time we have to present our documentation, and some of whose other documentation may not even match, since there are other organisations (such as many banks) who are already allowing for non-gendered titles and suchlike.

And ditto for those many intersex people, of course, who do not identify with a binary sex.

The gender/sex binaries do not accurately represent a certain proportion of the UK population, and sex doesn’t belong printed on the passport, especially now that all sorts of other biometric info is electronically stored in the passport to distinguish us.

There’s a current GoPetition petition created by the non-gendered activist Christie Elan-Cane to lobby the government to do something to address this, but it hasn’t yet had much exposure, so there are not many votes on it yet. If you live in the UK and feel moved to sign this – either because it’s meaningful to you personally, or because you know someone (like me!) for whom it is, or because you simply agree with it – please go ahead and sign this, and share it wherever you share such things (I’m delighted that writing about this on my facebook wall has already added 10 signatures to the petition, for example, and many of those are from people who acknowledge the need, even though it is not theirs – in fact, since I and a few friends started posting about this, it’s leapt up by almost 100 already).

http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/in-support-of-‘x’-passports-in-the-united-kingdom.html

While we’re on the subject, blogger Cassian Lodge is planning to instigate a campaign to lobby for legal recognition of non-binary genders – see their tumblr post about this if you’re interested to get involved.

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Gender’s Game

rainbow-cloud(Hello, I’m back…)

Mm, been a bit of an “interesting” few months, I was very much under the thumb of opiates whilst awaiting what was actually fairly low-level surgery, and couldn’t think straight enough to post.

But trala, here I am, had me little surgery, and then spent two months coming off a maximum dose of opiates (Tramadol) – high dose because it shouldn’t have taken almost a year to get that surgery, and opiates stop working after a wee while and you have to keep upping the dose. So yes, two months reducing the dose and coming off them, and then… WHAM! as soon as I actually stopped taking them, this last month has been a hell of involuntary muscle spasms and cramps in my arms and legs, and not a lot of sleep. Trala.

But this isn’t about that, this is about this.

Oh, wait, before I got to this, there’s that, which that is about, which is that it turns out that Tramadol (and probably other opiates too) are a pretty good cushion against PTSS symptoms. So I’m now living without that net for the first time in a year, and it’s a bit of a bugger. But I’d rather be me off drugs than on them, if I have the choice.

Anyway, this.

As you will know, if you’d been reading my blog-things (and can remember that far back, after such a long lacuna), I’ve been describing my gender identity as an archipelago of different gender-qualities (woman, androgyne, trans man, other) in the greater sea of me.

Well, it’s become recently apparent that this was just a convenient lie. Convenient because with what I was going through (MTF transition, PTSS, chronic pain, etc.) I needed the majority of people in my life to think they knew where I was and who I was and not just stare at me and say “Uh?” So for the sake of all that, and for self-pretection, it seemed true to me at the time; but it ain’t so.

What’s so? The actual truth (for now, for me, at any rate) is that gender makes no sense to me at all. I’m going through an MTF transition because my somatopsyche knows it’s female, and my body needs to get with the programme. But when I really think about gender (and I can actually do that, now that my brain is no longer opiated), it just does literally seem like a mere game. From culture to culture, from subculture to subculture, we’re told from birth “this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves, and this is how people with these genitalia behave and see themselves – and no, there’s no Other, just those two.” Well okay, there are cultures tucked away on the planet that allow for more options, but they’re still fairly limited and constructed around the binary Girl/Boy paradigm, generally speaking (so in some places you get to be The Other One, you get to be Both, but there isn’t really anywhere where you get to be Neither – apart from Nepal).

I look at my sense of identity, and I can’t see anything coherent or concrete that looks like what people call gender. All I can see in me (and in everyone else, is how it seems to me) is a vast array of human qualities with the borders between them blurred and edgeless – and then each culture (each subculture) corrals them into sets and says “You be woman-qualities, you be man-qualities” (with, generally speaking, an implication of “heterosexual” in those selections).

I hope by now you’ve noticed that I’m careful to say: this is how I’m experiencing it, seeing it. Because I have no idea what’s going on in anyone else’s head. But it feels and seems to me that gender doesn’t exist, it’s just a rule book for a set of games – and that calling myself woman-androgyne-trans man makes about as much sense to me as describing myself to someone as “Well, I’m sort of part boot, part top hat, and part racing car.”

So this is in equal parts bloody amazing and bloody inconvenient. It’s bloody amazing every time I step closer to a real sense of me, and this feels like a big step in that direction: I don’t have a gender identity, I just have a sex identity (female) that belongs to my somatic body-sense, hence transition. It no longer makes sense to call myself transgender, because no gender – in fact, the academic, narrow definition of transsexual would fit me better, if it weren’t such a nasty word (in my view), because I am in fact transitioning due to a body-sex incongruency.

Oh yes, why is it bloody inconvenient? Because I have to explain it to everyone, and it’s going to make how I identify in the future more hard work. Up until now, it would be honest to say that my interest in getting the X option for UK passports was academic, not personal – I could see its value for other people for whom it was a true thing, being neutral or agender. But now I can see an X in my future, and neutral pronouns, and so on, and that’s hard work. I know it is, because I’ve seen my friends working hard who have already come to this conclusion about themselves ahead of me. Ah well.

If I were forced to describe something about me in terms of “gender identity”, I would describe it as a rainbow-coloured cloud. This comes (for me) from an image in Buddhism of the rainbow-coloured cloud as a symbol of the potential out of which everything happens, and keeps happening, and keeps affecting and being affected by everything else (because it’s all intertwangled). And it’s still a game, something that covers up the clear blue sky out of which it arises, and into which it evanesces, all the time.

But since saying that makes people stare at me and say “Uh?”, I’m now inclined, in fields that ask “What is your gender?” to write “post-gender.”

This is a bit of a problem, because it sounds potentially elitist. But I don’t mean it in a Look at me, I’ve seen through this and you haven’t, nyah nyah way.  I simply mean I used until recently to think I had a gender identity, but now I don’t. Go figure. *shrug* And for the same reasons that I don’t like “assuming a position” by calling myself atheist (I prefer non-theist), I don’t like the term agender as a description of me. I’d really just rather avoid the G word altogether.

There you go. Oh, one more piece of news: I’ll be having my, um, Sex Affirmation Surgery (that’ll have to do as a label) on the 6th of May. I’m very excited about this! I get to be as close to female as is possible in this day and age. But as for woman, man, androgyne, etc., I’ve always felt more like a spoonbill than any of those things, so here’s a very lovely spoonbill for you.

Happy new year(s), by the way. Glad to be back.

spoonbill-cropEnvoi: Ooh, cool – in outing myself as post-gender, I’m outing myself for the ninth time!

Remembrance

Bursting Shell, NevinsonFear and Pride are at the root of war.

May there be an end to both, and an end to war.

The consequences of any war so often reverberate down through generations, like an inherited disease – for the families of survivors as much as for families of the fallen.

I’m posting this to remember the fallen in war – the civilians, the ones who chose to fight, and the ones who didn’t choose, but fought anyway – and the ones who chose not to fight, and were slaughtered for that too.

The Parable of the Young Man and the Old

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

– Wilfred Owen