maybe dysphoria was better than this.
oct 29, 2016: laying in bed, two days before two years on testosterone, one day after one month after phalloplasty, seventeen months after top surgery, four days before nine months after hysterectomy. just numbers on a list, just rooms in a house, just objects in space. but i’m still surviving. suicide licking its teeth on my wounds, siren songs of constant recovery: “this is too hard, i can’t do this anymore, this is too hard, i want to die,” its face clear as beach glass, stool softeners and opioid withdrawal and night tremors. but i’m not dead yet.
i don’t remember much in the weeks immediately following my surgery, besides exhaustion, pain, nausea, and the crippling boredom of feeling suicidal while not being able to act on it. for my first week of recovery in Berkeley, i lay on a queen-sized air mattress facing a beige wall and the often-closed door of my friend’s bedroom. i was mostly immobile, so with not an insignificant amount of help, i ate yogurt and sweet california clementines and sipped yellow gatorade and emergen-C through technicolor straws, drank gallons and gallons of water, emptied catheter bags. i took my medications every four hours, every fourteen thousand hearbeats—massive round vicodin and tiny oblong percocet for the pain; pink antihistamines for the endless narcotic itch; blue oxybutin to stave off bladder spasms; burgundy cranberry pills for the UTIs; probiotic pearls for indigestion; baby aspirin to thin my blood; tiny sweet tablets of arnica montana that dissolved under my tongue; stool softeners and stimulant laxatives twice a day; prune juice occasionally. when i wasn’t sleeping or changing surgical dressings or applying medicinal honey to many, many wounds or slowly spooning soft food into my face or or or or… i would count the divots on the beige wall and the often-closed door of my friend’s bedroom.
oct 4, 2016: back safe and sound at C’s beautiful home in Berkeley, hanging with J! it’s really nice to be out of the hospital, but I’m struggling with quite a lot of postoperative pain today.
one night, between fucked-up sleeping patterns and a pain that wouldn’t be stemmed by a full dose of narcotics, i was unable to sleep. my breath came in short bursts as i tried to describe why when, over the phone, my boyfriend across the country asked how i was doing, i could only manage “bad.” i never felt so trapped in my own body as on that night and those nights, so trapped in that body i had tried so many times to escape, that body i had gone to such trouble to change. for what? is this what i had spent thousands of dollars and hours and breaths of my life on? to feel so trapped.
maybe dysphoria was better than this, i typed on a blank page on my iphone.
nov 18, 2016: it’s quite confusing to feel so depressed and so peaceful in my body at the same time.
a little over 3 months ago, on september 28th, i underwent radial-forearm flap phalloplasty at california pacific medical center in san francisco. the procedure was 8 hours long—i went under at around 730am and woke up around 3—and included scrotoplasty, vaginectomy, urethral lengthening. these and a handful of other smaller procedures resulted in the creation of my very own, slightly hairy, deeply scarred, chubby little penis.
at the behest of my therapist jj, i spent the few weeks preceding my surgery researching mindfulness techniques, specifically as they pertain to patients navigating traumatic medical procedures. i read books and listened to relaxing mp3s. i practiced my deep breathing. i took walks through parks and around the sun-shimmered Berkeley campus. i watched the bronze legs of the ruggers as they lunged across Witter Field, the letters emblazoning the sweatshirts and caps of fraternity boys on Piedmont and Channing.(maybe I would play rugby and wear their letters after I woke up with my penis.) i watched the weird little passionfruit flowers bloom like extraterrestrial aircraft in my friend’s backyard. i practiced my deep breathing. i took my anxiety medication. i tried to stretch everyday and limit my sodium intake. (sort of.) on the morning of my surgery, i lay in a cold fluorescent room, on a white hospital bed in a blue hospital gown and i looked into my boyfriend’s gray eyes, and i practiced my deep breathing. i kissed him once and walked into the OR and i practice my deep breathing. as i went under, my anesthesiologist read from a list that i had prepared, stolen from one of my mindfulness books and entitled “healing statements”
- “following this operation, you will feel comfortable and you will heal very well.”
- “following this operation, you will be hungry for vanilla custard. you will be thirsty and urinate easily.”
- “following this operation, your left arm, phallus, and urethra will be healthy and will recover well.”
oct 31, 2016: today i took my first solo walk. i walked through our apartment door and locked it behind me and i took the elevator down to the lobby and through the two big heavy front doors of the building, and i walked through the prospect park paradegrounds in the late afternoon and it was fucking golden everywhere. rusty bleachers and brown babies in dinosaur pumpkin costumes and fucking golden leaves everywhere. // today my microsurgeon said i can start weaning myself off of my arm splint, and i imagined a time in the future where i will slip my left hand, wrist, and arm into a long-sleeved shirt and take a run around the block.
i don’t remember much after surgery. i was kept in the intensive care unit on the fifth floor of the California Pacific Medical Center on Castro Street for four nights, where my boyfriend kept me company and marathoned Drag Race and washed my face and spoonfed me the aforementioned vanilla custard at my mealtimes. he took walks around the hospital neighborhood, with its steep Bay Area hills and cork oak trees and fog. i had to go back under surgery emergently on my second night; there was a large blood clot in my penis and they were no longer able to detect a heartbeat in my doppler. i had just had my custard, but the clot was too severe for them to wait for me to digest it before going back under. i was apparently in a lot of pain, but i don’t really remember that either.
as far back as i can remember, i always wanted to have a penis.
transitioning over the past three years has been the hardest processes i have ever done, with phalloplasty (fittingly) being the hardest of it all. i came out to myself, my friends, and my nuclear family; i started both psychotherapy and testosterone therapy; i had a double mastectomy, a laparoscopic hysterectomy, and double oophorectomy within a total of six months; and three months ago, i went to sleep for eight hours and i woke up with a penis.
i write about my transition so often that it feels like i have nothing left to say.
when i told my girlfriend that i thought i might be trans (or more accurately, when she found out from tumblr that i thought i might be trans), she cried. “i don’t know if i could ever be attracted to someone with a penis,” she said. “i don’t know if i would ever feel safe.” her tears came to mind a few times, sitting in front of fraternity houses and hot dog shops and passionfruit vines in Berkeley.
my transition has been the main driving force of my life for the past few years, blogged about and reblogged about, staring at youtube videos and words & photos on tumblr posts. i feel like i’m barely scratching at the surface of this experience, and i suppose that is why i keep trying. in moments like this, i return to a quote from an essay that i wrote over a year ago: “sometimes i look in the mirror, and sometimes, for brief moments, god’s image blinks back at me.”
oct 8, 2016: today I woke up in bed with terrible pain in my arm and I wanted to cry and I remember being at the hospital yesterday and sobbing with frustration and then today my friend jay helped me walk a little and I gave myself a baby wipe bath because i fucking reek and I held my penis and looked in the mirror and I think it’s all gonna be ok.
i want to alleviate my gender dysphoria. that is what i want. in conversations with my therapist, we use a lot of metaphors. one metaphor i return to is water: i am swimming, i am drowning, i am on the shore or a boat. when i think of my transition and my dysphoria, i tell my therapist it feels like i am in some great body of water (perhaps lake bosomtwe, or the gulf of guinea, or little neck bay, or the atlantic ocean right off of coney island) and i am swimming towards a boat. the boat is—what is it? happiness? the end of my dysphoria? a place sometime in the future where i feel content with my body and everything it signifies and represents? we return to this metaphor a lot. i started hormones…i changed my name…i had top surgery…every time i check off a “transition milestone,” i think i am going to reach the boat. but…the place where i thought the boat was has changed. the boat moves further away, or far to the right. i had top surgery, and instead of feeling uncomplicated happiness or relief, i experienced a genital dysphoria so strong that my panic attacks returned. the boat had moved.
nov 5, 2016: i’ve started listening to new music because i’m so fucking bored during the day while j is at work. sorority noise is resonating with me lately. i might get the line “i started sleeping again” from that song tattooed on me somewhere. i was listening to it on my walk this afternoon and i could’ve cried. i wish i could sleep, i’ve started getting anxious and scared every time it gets close to bedtime. i just know i’m gonna be alone again, trapped.
at the end of the day, i want to feel whole and complete. i would put myself through fucking hell to get there. i would go to the absolute brink, and i might even die. but my phalloplasty recovery taught me that i can survive.
one day, about four weeks after surgery, i took a walk through the prospect park paradegrounds, a series of parks, fields, and playgrounds that dot the southeast corner of the park. it was the first time i ventured unaccompanied out of my house, anxious to escape that unending aloneness of our flatbush home. i walked slowly and leaned heavily on my aluminum cane, which i loved because it was gifted to me by my friend in california and printed with blue flowers. the day was brisk but not cold—probably 60 degrees. i walked for a while, taking care to crunch leaves and run my uninjured arm across the benches and tables i past. small brown children ran across a soccer field, shrieking, kicking up turf in their pumpkin and superhero costumes, and i realized it was halloween. i could have cried.
throughout my transition, many people have told me that they are “proud” of me. i am very brave, they say, for living my truth. i had never felt particularly brave; as a hufflepuff, mostly i felt scared and hungry. as i walked through the parade grounds, chance the rapper’s gorgeous gospel album traced my slow scraping footsteps.
I don’t make songs for free, I make ’em for freedom
Don’t believe in kings, believe in the Kingdom
Chisel me into stone, prayer whistle me into song air
Dying laughing with Krillin saying something ’bout blonde hair
Jesus’ black life ain’t matter, I know I talked to his daddy
Said you the man of the house now, look out for your family
He has ordered my steps, gave me a sword with a crest
And gave Donnie a trumpet in case I get shortness of breath
that afternoon, i felt like i was the motherfucking legend of zelda. my cane a sword, my arm sling a shield. for the first time in my life i felt proud of myself. i had survived. i was still breathing. i would go to the absolute brink to feel whole in this body. i would swim through blood & tears & honey & sweet little voices telling me to swallow all my pain pills, through piles of medical bills & insurance claims (it’s nice to be so close to bankrupting myself at 25), towards a boat i may never reach. but, to continue my therapist’s metaphor, at least i’m no longer on the shore. my phalloplasty recovery taught me that i can survive.