On The Edge of Seventeen

They tell you that going on hormones is like a second puberty, and it is. But lately I’ve also been feeling like I’m going that teenage gawkiness where my mind hasn’t yet caught up to changes in my body.

Admittedly, my body *has* been through a lot of changes during the last 16 months, with some another major change coming in two months.

There’s definitely a bit of cognitive dissonance every time FB surfaces old photos of me. A big part of it is seeing my face pre-facial feminization surgery. I mean, I know it’s my face, but at the same time, I don’t quite recognize the person in the photo. Especially as some of the facial changes have been accentuated by losing a lot of weight (which I’ll get to in a second).

The other big body mod obviously is my breast augmentation back in January. Even though it’s only been a few months, it’s getting hard to imagine a time when I didn’t have them. That image of my body has gone down the memory. (And we’ve always been at war with Eurasia.)

OTOH, I’m now about a cup size smaller than when I wore breast forms — and while my breasts look really natural, I also think they’re a little small for my frame. No one’s fault, all the surgeons I consulted agreed on the recommended size of the implants, and my surgeon even went a size larger while I was on the table because he could tell my chest muscles were acting like a giant sports bra to schmush things down. But disappointing. Obviously, I’m not the first woman to be dissatisfied with the size of her breasts, but it’s especially disappointing given I paid a lot of money for them (not covered by insurances), and there’s no easy fix,* and because I was used to being a size larger when I was wearing breast forms.

But probably most of the feeling of being out of sorts with my body has been due to the weight loss — 35 pounds so far, and I need to lose another 15 in the next two months for bottom surgery.

It’s meant that I’ve dropped from a size 20/22 down to a size 14/16. Which has meant constantly not having clothes that fit right — either too baggy, or a bit tight, since I’m trying to avoid buying too many “interim clothes.” It’s suddenly having rings become too loose, and knowing that I’ll need to get the heirloom rings resized, but not until I know what my new weight will stabilize at. On the plus side, now that I can fit into misses-sizes clothes, and that opens up a far wider range of clothes than when I was plus-sized. But it’s still a bit odd to realize that stores I hadn’t even bothered to look at previously now have clothes that might actually fit me. (And yes, I’m well aware of the thin privilege that I’ve now gained.)

But the biggest challenge is coming to terms with being “big bodied” but not necessarily fat. I’m not squishy like most women my size. Admittedly, I’ve always been built that way, and it was hard to love my curves when I didn’t have any. Well except the one curve from my belly that makes me look male, and is fraught with gender-related body dysphoria issues.

Which is where a lot of the language of the body positivity movement has fallen flat for me. Don’t get me wrong, I *do* believe one should be able to embrace one’s curves. That you should love your body, no matter the shape or size. But you *don’t* necessarily need to love it “exactly the way it is.” As Sam Dylan Finch points out, that sort of language is definitely off-putting for trans people. Because, as Finch says, “no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”

More to the point, it’s damn hard to find — even within the body positivity movement — positive images of women with bodies like me. I’m glamazon-sized. With wide child-bearing shoulders, no hips and not much of ass (which makes it really tough to find jeans that fit). Big hands, big arms, big feet.

Laverne Cox may have reached a point where: “I am not beautiful despite my big hands, my big feet, my wide shoulders, my height, my deep voice and all the things that make me beautifully and noticeably trans. I am beautiful because of those things” but reaching that level of self-love is a helluva lot easier when you look like, well, Laverne Cox.** Personally, I’m still struggling.

Especially because as I’m settling into my identity as a woman living as a woman, the stakes are changing. For years, my sense of being attractive came with an asterisk — pretty good for a crossdresser, pretty good for a drag queen, pretty good for someone who was gender queer. The asterisk was always there because I just assumed I was “visibly trans.” I’m realizing that that’s not necessarily always the case. So the goal posts have moved significantly…. Now it’s, how attractive am I as a *woman*? Especially one of a certain age, an age when many women become invisible.

And yes, I realize I’m falling into the “beauty myth” trap, and so I’ve got that layer of self-criticism going on too (i.e. why can’t I shrug it off). But it’s hard to avoid, as a women living in our culture, and especially as a woman in burlesque, where I’m putting my body on display. And where, although there’s lot of talk about body positivity and beauty at all sizes, there’s also still a strong undercurrent of preference for a certain body type, and certain plus-size body type (hour-glass), that I don’t have, that I’ll never have. Testosterone wreaked changes on my body that can’t be undone.

As I said, it’s complicated. I’m still doing a lot of processing.

In the meantime, I’m trying to remind myself there are women built like me. Going to Kansas City last year, I saw a number of large, stocky women, ones who shared a heritage of being the daughters of German peasants, with bodies suited to working the farm. I’ve looked for role models. Olympic hammer thrower Amanda Bingson, who was featured in the famous 2015 Sports Illustrated “Body” issue, with its photos of naked athletes of various shapes and sizes. I’ve seen myself in crew members of collegiate rowing teams. I’ve seen myself in Xena (even if I’d much rather have the body of Gabrielle).

One day, I hope to be able love all the things that make me “big bodied” (and probably “visibly trans” as well). To internalize it. To truly believe it. But for now, it’s one day at a time.

*The FDA currently only has approved silicone breast implants up to 800cc in size, which is a size larger than what I have now, and at most would maybe add a half-cup in size. To go larger, I’d have to switch to saline implants, which I’d prefer not to do. But it’s all moot at this point anyway, since any potential redo will need to wait until 2019.

**No disrespect to Ms. Cox, who I adore, and who’s made it clear it took her years to reach that level of self-acceptance. But fact of the matter is that she’s also beautiful in ways that fit the cis-het norms.

T Minus 60

So in 60 days, I’ll be waking up in Thailand after having my parts rearranged — and yeah, I’ve been having a moment about that.
 
To say the least, my feelings right now are… complicated.
 
Part of me is definitely looking forward to shedding the last of my pupal form.
 
Which is a little surprising because I’ve never been one of those trans people who’ve felt that my genitals were something alien — something that made it a harder decision to get genital reassignment surgery. In fact, when I socially transitioned, I didn’t think I’d get it done, because I didn’t feel the need.
 
But gender dysphoria, can be like an onion — as I resolved the visible issues, it unexpectedly surfaced deeper ones.
 
And the reality is this, I don’t hate my genitals as they are now, but I hate, as Sam Dylan Finch aptly said:
 
“It’s about how invisible my body makes me feel — the way it tricks others into seeing me as something that I’m not.
 
And no amount of self-love and validation can change the fact that, when I step out into the world, my body precedes me and erases a very important aspect of my identity.”
 
Consequently, sometimes changing one’s body can be be the greatest act of self-love.
 
And yet…
 
Some of it are the “normal” jitters — it is major surgery after all, and if I weren’t having some anxiety, I be worried. Although it’s less about the surgery itself, and more about the recovery, and lengthy, and involves some rather painful aftercare. (Or why you probably won’t see too much of me during the last half of 2018.)
 
There’s also anxiety about needing to lose another 15 pounds in order to meet the surgeon’s weight limit. Worse case scenario if I don’t make the goal is that they refuse to operate — and there’s currently a two-year waiting list if I needed to reschedule. (Plus I’d probably forfeit some/all of the surgical fee.) It’s a stretch but it’s doable — but I’m also running out of time. And being stressed makes me want to eat…
 
Another part of me just wants to get it over with. I’m tired of feeling in limbo, like I’m just in a holding pattern until July, or more realistically 2019, when I’ll be healed enough to really get out and about again, to be intimate again.
 
And for yet another part of me, what’s currently in my panties is feeding into some major body image issues going on — between the weight loss (35 pounds so far) and the breast augmentation, I feel like a gawky teenager, who’s not quite grown into her current body. But that’s topic for another post altogether.
 
Meanwhile, the waiting is the hardest part…

Hair Transplants, Post-surgery, Day 6

Six days post-surgery for the hair transplants, which means now that the follicles have been absorbed into their new locations, I no longer have to use the ultra-gooey antibiotic gel on my scalp, and I can wash away any of the remaining scabbing.

I can’t tell you how happy both of these make me.

All Systems Are Go

Got my official “referral for genital reassignment surgery*” letter from my therapist this evening!
 
Unlike the prior letters from my medical doctors — which were strictly to try to get insurance to cover the surgery — this one is the critical one, since it means I’ve cleared the gatekeeping to get the surgery.
 
Because for better or worse, before you get GRS done, surgeons require you to get two letters** from your therapist/psychologist stating that you’re a “suitable” candidate for the surgery.
 
Since it’s a permanent, non-reversible surgery, I understand why surgeons want to make someone won’t have regrets (and potentially sue) later. OTOH, needless to say, the requirement also is at odds with the notion of patients having autonomy over their own bodies.
 
So yeah, getting the letter is a BFD.
 
#ShitsGettingReal
 
*Also known as “sexual reassignment surgery.”
 
(Please don’t refer to it as “sex change,” since that’s a outmoded term that most trans people find offensive as a verb, and definitely offensive when used as a noun, i.e. referring to trans people as “sex changes.”
 
**Dr. Suporn has his own psychologist do an evaluation when you arrive in Thailand, that psychologist writes the second letter. It’s usually a pro forma thing,*** but they could refuse to give you the green light if they have concerns.

***Dr. Suporn has a waiting list of well over year, and by that point you’ve paid a hefty non-refundable surgical fee, so you have to be pretty committed to doing the surgery by the time you arrive in Thailand for the evaluation.

Hair Transplants, Post-surgery, Day 0

A quick post before I catch the flight back from LA…

Hair transplants went well. Now I’m sporting a stylish surgical cap for the next week until the scalp heals.

It’ll take up to three months before the newly relocated follicles get over “transplant shock” and start growing hair again.

Been a long day. Glad to be heading home.

Give Me a Head With Hair, Long Beautiful Hair

Down in Beverly Hills, getting ready to do a third round of hair transplants. Unlike the first two, they’re not reshaping my hairline (it was changed to have a classically female upside down-U shape). Today it’s just filling two areas on the sides of my forehead that look really thin when I part my hair.

They’re going to use a different procedure this time. Instead of cutting out a strip of scalp as the donor for he transplanted follicles, this time they’ll be using the robotic method, where the robot exacts follicles individually.

The good news is that there won’t be an incision at the back of my head this time, and things should heal much faster.

The bad news is that they’ll need to shave at least two stripes 2cm wide in the back of my head, where the robot will be taking out follicles. Thankfully, the bare stripes aren’t visible afterwards because they’re covered by your other hair. However given how long it’s taken to grow out my hair, I’m still ready to cry whenever I think about it.

But as far as my transition, sacrifices must be made, and this is one of them.

Ask Me Anything — But Maybe Not Right Now

Damn, this article — “Why being trans in a cis world can be exhausting” — is resonating hard.

I’ve intentionally been open about being trans, and about my transition, and I mostly respond with an “ask me anything” attitude. As Rachel, who is far, far more cool-as-fuck than I, aptly puts it:

“It’s mostly cool and okay when I answer questions about my life. I’m glad that I can be the first trans person that people meet (mostly). Because I’m cool as fuck and I’m willing to be patient and kind (mostly).”

But yeah… being constantly on call to do Trans 101 — usually not at times and places not of my own choosing — can be wearing.

As the fabulous Mx. Justin Vivian Bond put it: “it still feels like I can really only be myself when no one’s looking.” Mostly.

One Small Step, One Big Step

Got my official “referral for sexual reassignment surgery” letter from my physican today. It was a much more emotional moment than I would thought be.
 
Let me explain… This letter is simply to try to get insurance to cover the surgery.*
 
The letter that actually matters is the “gatekeeping” letter** I’ll be getting from my therapist shortly, saying that SRS is appropriate treatment for my gender dysphoria, that I’m not mentally ill or mentally impaired, and that I’m able to give informed consent. I can’t get surgery without it.
 
But still, even if it’s just “insurance paperwork,” this is a definite milestone. Shit’s getting real, real fast.
 
*Technically, California law requires insurers to cover SRS. But I’ll be having mine done in Thailand, which means paying upfront and then trying to get reimbursed your insurance company. Who usually do their best to avoid paying if you go overseas (which is ironic because the surgeons there are often better, and usually are less expensive).
 
I’m not that optimistic, but I’ve heard that the odds improve slightly if you get an referral from an in-network doctor, and seek pre-authorization. We’ll see…
 
**Surgeons typically require two therapists/psychologists to sign off your SRS, however, my surgeon has his own psychologist do the second evaluation, so I only need to get one letter myself.
 
I understand why surgeon’s want that sort of CYA, given that it’s an irreversible surgery. And certainly you’d be foolish to do without having done The Work about why you want it. (Which is true of any other plastic surgery). But yeah, it definitely poses issues around patients’ having autonomy over their bodies.