About Transgender Day of Visibility

FYI, here’s a piece I was asked to write at one of the political blogs I follow:

As I mentioned in the comments, today is Transgender Day of Visibility, held every March 31, intended to honor and celebrate transgender and gender non-conforming people (GNC) — both those visible and those invisible.

It started a decade ago but only took off a few years ago, and is intended as a complement to the annual Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memories of that year’s victims of anti-trans violence — usually always all trans women, the vast majority of them trans women of color, in particular Black trans women. For years, TDOR was the only national/international event for trans people, and while it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this, it’s also, needless to say, more than a bit depressing. Hence TDOV, which focuses on the living.

It’s all too rare that trans/GNC people have chance to celebrate who we are, and it’s also a chance to express our defiance of attempts to eradicate us from public life (the Talibaptists have a literal five-point plan to do so, and under the Trump administration, and red state governments, they’ve made significant progress on several fronts).

But perhaps the most important aspect is being visible. These days roughly 37 percent of Americans know someone who’s trans/GNC. Think you don’t know someone trans, well you actually probably do. There’s still an unfortunately-huge number of us who never leave the closet, and for those who do, there’s can often be a desire to fly under the radar, to blend in. For those in red states, this can be a matter of literal survival. But it’s also because — unlike coming out as LGB, which tells who people who you are — coming out as trans, invariably puts the focus on who you were. At least for a binary trans woman like me, i.e. I’m someone who prefers to be seen as a woman who’s trans.

OTOH, there are definitely trans people who are out and proud, and don’t care about that. There are GNC folks — who may also refer to themselves as non-binary or genderqueer — who are proud to be out and visible. (As well as those GNC people who struggle with being visibly “betwixt and between” which can be an enormously hard place to be.) There’s also trans people who can’t be invisible even if they wanted to, because they physically can’t blend in — most of us weren’t blessed by the androgyny fairy — and being “visibly trans” can be an exceedingly hard life. And some of us trans/GNC folks have had no choice but to be visible and fight like hell for our rights and humanity (to quote from the fierce and fearless Black trans advocate, Monica Roberts, whose blog is well worth following).

Personally, this TDOV, I’m feeling quite ambivalent about being visible — even if for years my motto has been “visible for those who can’t be” — for personal reasons that I go into at my blog. The tl:dr version is that 1) while my divorce from masculinity may have been amicable, the past three years still have been hugely stressful, with trans issues dominating my life, and I’d like to a break from that for some time to do some self-care; 2) I’m facing a Catch-22 where the more I writing and activism I do, the more “being trans” becomes the thing that defines me, when I’d rather it be the third or fourth most interesting thing about me.

I’m not quite sure how to square that circle, but this Teen Vogue article by 11-year-old trans girl about how visibility has changed her life inspires me to figure a way to do so. 11-year-old me didn’t even know that trans — or trans people — existed. I just knew that I was “different” and thought I was the only one in the world. I don’t want trans kids today to know that feeling. My hope is that we “late-life transitioners” are the last of a lost generation, that the younger generations will have the freedom and support to find themselves without wasting decades of their lives.

Unfortunately, we still have a long ways to go — a 2018 study found that up to half of trans/GNC teens attempt suicide. It’s hard to swim in a sea of poison without swallowing some. And so we fight.

And Forget About Everything

So today is Transgender Day of Visibility, and this year I’m feeling extremely ambivalent about it as far as myself. <tl:dr, long soul-searching post ahead>

OTOH, we need visibility and activism, especially in these times, and I’m one of the examples that, yes, it gets better. Likewise, when I was young, I didn’t even know other trans people existed — or that trans itself existed — and I don’t want other 11-year-olds to feel “different” but not know why, and feel like they’re the only ones in the world who feel that way.

But OTOH, there’s a huge difference between coming out as LGB and coming out as T. The former puts the focus on who you are, while coming out as trans inevitably puts the focus on who you were — at least for binary trans people like me. That’s one reason that I haven’t been posting much about my transition lately. And who I was… that’s a part of my life that I’d prefer to leave in the past.

Especially right now. My divorce from masculinity may have been amicable, but like many divorces, the past three years still have been hugely stressful with Teh Tranz dominating my life.

A friend who’s watched trans people transition for decades once observed that three years after transitioning, the vast majority of them had not only changed job, but changes fields; and many of them had moved as well. They weren’t necessarily going “stealth” —  i.e. living a life where no one knows that you’re trans — but they, consciously or not, wanted to start over, free of the preconceptions of people who knew them “before.”

I’m really feeling that pull myself. To start over. To not hide the fact that I’m a trans woman, but not have it be the first thing people know about me, and have it be the third or fourth most interesting thing about me. But to do so would mean giving up performing, which is one of the few things that has given me joy in life. So I’m feeling a bit trapped.

This year, I’m also coming to terms with how much not being able to be myself, and having to hide myself, really damaged my life. (I’m in the middle of some necessary, but painful work with my therapist about this.) So it’s for me hard to say “being trans is wonderful” given what it’s cost me — although I’ve got no desire to be cisgender. And it means Teh Tranz is still dominating my life right now, as I work through the anger and grief at the decades that were stolen from me, the life that I didn’t had, the life that I never will have, the other damage it’s done to my life. Hiding my core self, and walling myself off so that I couldn’t get hurt was a necessary survival strategy, but one that’s left me feeling lonely and isolated.

So lately I’ve been wishing I could move away from Baker Street and settle down in some quiet little town and forget about everything. Sometimes part of activism is taking time out for self-care, and trusting that other will take up the fight. That’s where I’m at.

Consequently, to paraphrase The Waitress’ Christmas song: Happy TDOV, happy TDOV, but I think I’ll miss this one this year.


Tap, Tap… It This Still On

I realized that it’s been months since I’ve posted. Mostly it’s because no news was good news. The short version is that the physical recovery went well, and I’m back to normal. Although I’m going to have to return to Thailand for a revision to fix something that didn’t quite heal as desired. (Fortunately, it’s more of a cosmetic issue.)

I’ve also been dealing with a massive amount of burnout from the past three years, and so I haven’t felt much like writing about trans issues.

Plus there’s less to say day to day, now that I’m more or less through my transition.

But I’l still be posting occasionally.


GRS Post-op Day 99 – Getting there

Good news: Pain levels have been dropping dramatically and I finally should be able to get completely off the opiate-based pain killer by Monday – although I’m still on a hefty dose of Tylenol, until I can ramp off that as well.

Which in turns means I can get back on my antidepressant, which had a conflict with the pain med. I’d previously been doing well without it, and had hoped I wouldn’t need it anymore now that the source of much of my depression had been resolved.

But between feeling overwhelmed by current events, and the first holiday season without my mother, it seems prudent to go back on for the time being.

Also good news: I now only have do two shorter dilation sessions of aftercare daily. Still two hours a day, but less than half the time I’ve been spending the last three months. Plus twice daily is far easier tos chedule than three times a day.

Bad news: I don’t know if it’s the reduced pain killers, but aftercare is now a lot more uncomfortable. Heard mention on the patient support forum that some folks go through an additional round of scar contration.

Plus, I still don’t have much energy. Another three months to before I’ll (hopefully) feel 100 percent again.

GRS Post-Op Day 71 – Made It Through The Week

10 weeks post-op and the first week back at work was pretty rough, but I made it through it. Well mostly — I had to leave early Friday afternoon to go home and nap because I realized I’d been staring at my computer screen for the past half-hour and not gotten anything done. Fortunately my co-worker on the project has been understanding, and I’ve got a job where as long I get the work done in time, I can be fairly flexible with my hours.

So this weekend is pretty much devoted to catching up on work and catching up on sleep. Much as I really want to go to a major even in San Francisco (after having missed it last year), it’s simply pushing too hard to do so. Trying to dilate three times a day (which takes about 90 minutes each time) has been a huge challenge time-wise and mentally, even with leaving work early. I’ve had to fight through a bad case of the “just don’t wanna’s” and did miss the third dilation more than once. In three weeks, I can go down to twice a day, and I can’t for wait that.
The good news is that the pain is slowly going down, and I was (mostly) able to dial back my pain meds a notch. Which means I now only have to wake up once during the night to take them, which in turn will help me get better sleep, although the short-term trade-off is I’m waking up a bit more due to pain as the meds wear off.

The non-stop post-op discharge also seems like it’s starting dry up, and it’ll be a welcome relief when (eventually) I won’t have to wear pads 24/7. Especially since I’m still getting urethral irritation and bleeding, and even reusable pads, which are softer, tend to worsen that.

Acupuncture to the pubic mound and vulva also has made a noticeable difference in reducing swelling in both places. I’m really lucky that a few years ago I saw an acupuncturist for my pinched nerve pain, and she 1) also has a specialty in pelvic floor acupuncture, and 2) has worked with other trans women post-op. The trade-off is the drive up to San Francisco to see her tends to worsen the swelling, but she’s offered to educate my local acupuncturist about what to do, so that I won’t have to travel.

I’m also at the point where I’m officially allowed to have “sexy thoughts” and engage in “gentle self-exploration” of the outer vulva (the inner labia is still too delicate), which I did for the first time last night. It was a mixed bag. The good news is that I definitely have sensation and it was pleasurable. The bad news is getting aroused is still a bit painful — as mentioned, my vulva is still swollen and so when blood flows to the erectile tissue that was reused to create my labia, the pressure is too much and makes things hurty.

Trying to be patient….

GRS Post-Op – Day 66 – Headed Back To Work

So I’m headed back to work tomorrow. Not really ready, either physically or emotionally, but Mama’s gotta eat.
It’s especially going to be a slog the next four weeks because I still have to dilate three times daily, and each session takes 75-90 minutes. Thankfully, I can work from home and my office schedule is usually fairly flexible, so I can leave early to take care of the second dilation and then catch up on work in the evening. But it means I won’t have much of a life, at least until I can reduce to dilating twice a day (for another three months), which is a bit more doable.
The upside is at least I’ll be around people again. It’s been disappointing how few people reached out to see how I was doing.
I’ll make it through, I’ve got a Master’s Degree from Figure It The Fuck Out University. I’m the strong friend. Come 2019, hopefully I’ll be feeling good enough again to start making some major changes in my life (as if I haven’t already been through enough of them the last three years). One chapter of my life closes, another one begins. But yeah, I wish this past chapter had been a little different.

GRS Post Op Day 63 – Nine Weeks

So, I’m nine weeks post-op as of today. As expected month 2 really kicked my ass. Getting better week by week, but definitely up and down.

The good news is that pain has been gradually improving. In fact, I’ve often been late taking my pain meds for the last week because my body hasn’t been making it clear that it was time to take them. So starting to experiment with ramping down the amount.

Unfortunately those plans have been foiled the last couple days by a probable urethral opening tear. (Thanks constipation…) Which is really painful, and all the more so because I’ve having to wear menstrual pads for the discharge, which makes it pretty much impossible for the tender area not to be rubbed and bleeding constantly. At night, even a single bed sheet put an uncomfortable amount of pressure there. Doesn’t help that dilating puts pressure on the urethra can cause irritation, plus the dilator stretching the skin around the urethra wasn’t pleasant at all. But gotta dilate lest my neo-vagina close up. So just tried to do my best to grit my teeth and think of England.

There’s also been two bouts with vaginal order, which occurs when I don’t get the lube (used for dilations) completely rinsed out and it ferments. Which can occur rapidly and smells really nasty. Thankfully, I’d reached the point where I could switching from the irrigation syringe to an actual vaginal douche bottle, which resolved things. (With either it’s just rinsing with clear water.)

Still fairly wiped out, since at a minimum I’ve had to wake up every three hours to take pain meds, and there have been plenty of nights where I’ve also woken frequently due to pain. Hard to nap during the day because they’re doing construction next door.

I knew it was going to be hard recovery, but I definitely underestimated how hard it would be. But I’ll get through it. Until then, I’m just embracing the suck.

GRS Post-Op Day 56 – First Time In The Stirrups

It’s another womanhood achievement unlocked — first time in the stirrups. 😉

Granted in Thailand I had to assume the positionevery morning during the daily post-op visits by the nurses, as well as during the twice weekly check-ups at the clinic. But today was the first time stirrups were officially involved.

I was actually in to see my hormone doctor, since now that I’m 1) sans testes and 2) done with the initial round of breast growth, it’s time to adjust my estrogen prescription to take me down a “maintenance” dose, which I’ll need to take for the rest of my life. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have any hormones in my body at all, and long-term that can cause some health problems.)

But since my hormone doctor has decades of experience treating trans women, it turns out that he’s also done post-op care for them — including with other patients of Dr. Suporn, who uses a technique that’s very different than the one used in the States. (In fact, Dr. Suporn generally doesn’t want you to have other doctors examine your new vulva/vagina unless it’s an emergency, since they won’t understand what he’s done, and they might cause damage if they try to “fix” something that’s actually not a problem. It’s happened.)

However, since my doctor is familiar with Dr. Suporn’s work, I took him up on his offer to check things out if I wanted. I figured it would be useful to get his opinion on how I’m healing. So up went to the feet, and out came the speculum.

The good news is it’s going well overall. There’s a small area of the 400-500 stitches inside me that has granulated tissue, which can be painful, but nothing that he’s concerned about. He also confirmed that I’ve got urethral opening irritation, apparently it’s pretty red. But while it’s ouchy and annoying, it’s not serious. Hopefully some of the things I’ve been doing in the past week will help calm it down.

GRS Post-Op Day 48 – Bloody Annoying

Had my first real urethral bleeding earlier today. It’s not serious and most of Dr. Suporn’s patients have it at some point during their recovery. Rather it’s annoying, a bit messy, and definitely ouchy.

In this case, it seems like straining on the toilet — opiate pain killers cause constipation — caused local blood pressure to increase and popped a blood vessel. Thankfully it happened at home, so I could just lay down, apply pressure with the clinic-supplied medical cotton balls and after about 10 minutes it stopped.

Although things were hampered by not knowing exactly where my urethral opening is — things are still so delicate that I’m still not allowed to spread my inner labia for another six weeks. (There’s a risk of tearing or even detaching the inner labia until everything’s healed.) Which means I haven’t had an up close and personal look down there yet. So it was a bit of trial and error, applying the cotton balls and seeing how much blood was on them until I found the bloodiest spot.

Thankfully things seem back to normal tonight.

GRS Post-Op Day 46 – Urethra Frankly

TMI, post-op ouchiness….

One of the persistent problems I’ve been having is urethral opening irritation, most likely from wearing menstrual pads for 39 days straight. The last couple days I’ve also had light urethral bleeding, which is a normal part of the recovery, and nothing to be worried about.

But the pain has been a deterrent to doing much, since moving around causes chafing, which in turn causes more irritation and more pain. Tried epsom salt baths but while those were soothing, they also caused swelling — which is the last thing I need at this point.

Thankfully, on Saturday I talked about this with a women’s coffee group I belong to, and they suggested trying reusable pads, since they’re made of fabric, which is a lot kinder on the nether regions.

I tried it, and it’s made a huge difference in comfort — although things are still irritated enough that I wake up a lot during the night unless I take a sleeping pill, which I’m trying to only do once or twice a week at most (to avoid long-term sleep problems).

The main disadvantages of the reusable pads are that they’re a bit bulkier, although they don’t feel as bulky as a regular pad of the same thickness, and also that I have to wash them constantly. Got two three-packs, so I’ve got one set to wear, while the other set is being washed.

Hopefully, the irritation will subside soon because I’m getting really tired of it.