The Surgery – gender reassignment surgery – has never felt like the One End Goal for me. I was ambiguous about surgery, unsure if it was right for me. I knew I didn’t like my body as-is, but surgical intervention is a big step. I joked that, should a vagina fairy fly through the window, I would happily swap my penis for some new plumbing. But wanting something in the abstract and being willing to undergo the steps to get it are two different things, whether the thing in question is moving, learning a new language, or gender reassignment surgery. My equipment (such that it is) works pretty well. It gives me pleasure. I’m not too upset about it. Couldn’t I find a better use of $20,000? Life would certainly be easier if I decided I didn’t want The Surgery.
At some point within the last two years, though, I woke up and realized I did want The Surgery. So I started doing research. Met with doctors. Decided on Dr. McGinn. Scheduled a date, December 9, 2013. Launched a surgery fundraiser. Went to New York City to get my penis scanned by lasers, so that I could make a custom, self-cast mold. I am having this surgery, and the surgery itself is rushing closer every day.
I’m still scared, though. And I’m not sure how to talk about that fear.
I’ve always said (and I still believe) that no trans person ”needs” surgery to be a “real” man or woman or anything else. Surgery is a personal act, but it’s also political and economic. My having surgery, my (financial/physical/emotional/social) ability to have surgery, don’t make me a “better” trans person than someone who – for whatever reason(s) – ends up not having surgery. I’m comfortable with all that; of saying “This decision is right for me, but may not be right for anyone else.”
For all that, it was easier to feel ambiguous before I actually decided to have The Surgery. I could legitimately say “I don’t know.” Now I’m saying that I do know – that I want and am ready for The Surgery – without anything approaching 100% certainty.
Some of the fears are boring and practical: Should I be spending $20,000 on this? Should I be asking friends and family and strangers to help me raise $20,000? Am I willing to go into debt to get this done? Those are logistical fears, and the easiest ones to dismiss: Yes, if this is the right decision for me, then it’s worth $20,000. Yes, I’m willing to go into debt. yes, I’m willing to ask friends and family and strangers for money.
But what about the bigger fears? The scarier ones?
What if I come out feeling wrong?
What if I never orgasm again? Or sexual at all?
Looking at pictures of post-op trans women, some of them look painful. Icky. Not like something I want to happen to my body. What if that’s my experience? What if I never feel like me again?
Somehow, asking those questions – naming those fears – seems like it’s not allowed. Like there’s an unspoken agreement among trans people that – once the decision to have The Surgery is made – we’re not allowed to discuss the fact that it’s scary. Painful. Uncomfortable. Gross.
As a performer, as an educator, and as a person, I try to project the sense that I have my shit together and know what I’m doing. But I don’t. I’m making it up as I go along. To some extent, I am reassured by my past reactions to transitioning; I describe every step of the way as me saying, “Wait, no, this is scary this is too much, this is too fast, this is – why didn’t I do this ages ago?” That fits my reaction to going back to therapy, going on hormones, trying hair removal, changing my appearance and my name, the whole kit and caboodle. There’s good reason to believe I’ll feel that way after The Surgery, too.
I’ve also been thinking about when I got my gallbladder removed. That experience was gross, and painful, and uncomfortable. I also survived it, and came out stronger for it.
I don’t want to dwell on fear, or let it consume me. But I also don’t want to pretend that it’s not there, or that I’m immune to doubt and second thoughts.
I just have to trust that it will all turn out OK.