Reflections After Surgery

The past couple months I’ve been recovering from bottom surgery (gender reassignment surgery). It’s been a strange liminal period of relief and reorientation.

I don’t doubt at all that this is a huge and positive milestone in my life. I’ve despised a part of my body as long as I can remember, doing my best to hide it and write it out of my consciousness to cope with my dysphoria. It was evidence of my bodily masculinity, dredging up horrible feelings in an instant if I ever let my guard down.

Now it’s gone, and I have something new and unfamiliar. Do I like it? I don’t know, it just is. I suspect that’s how many people feel about their bodies. It’s still changing as it heals, still a source of discomfort and awkwardness, so I reserve full judgment, but I do know that I’m a lot happier.

It’s hard to describe gender dysphoria to someone who hasn’t experienced it. You are yourself, but your body is wrong, people don’t treat you right, and you can’t express yourself without risking ruinous ostracization. You overcompensate to fit in and make yourself miserable, and no-one ever sees your real self because you do your best to hide it away. Every day you see other people living aspects of the life you wish you had, blissfully unaware of their fortune because they never imagined anything different.

The worst part is how it’s all tangled up. We’re socialized to rigidly associate body shapes with gender, and gender with behaviors. There’s no objective way to define what makes a man or woman, it’s emergent from a whole array of factors. All the aspects of dysphoria feed into your sense of identity. Your body, how people treat you, and how you are able to express yourself all feed into your sense of self identity, which in turn affects how you feel about those things.

I’ve overcome a lot of inhibitions, and in many ways I don’t care what people think about me. But when I look into a mirror, and part of my body looks male, I don’t feel real. When someone calls me “sir”, I don’t feel real. I feel like an impostor. I feel like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not, that “reasonable” people would consider me delusional. When people treat me well, I suspect it’s simply because I’m somehow fooling them, and if they had the full picture, of course they’d think I wasn’t real. Or they’re just humoring me to be nice.

The biggest contributor to those feelings for me is gone, and it’s a huge relief. It would be pretty damn hard for anyone now to claim to objectively call me a man. Of course, that means I’m now worrying about other things. Should I get top surgery (breast augmentation) or FFS (facial feminisation surgery)? They’d lessen my remaining dysphoria, but I don’t know how much. Can I justify the expense, pain and time? Is it a moral failing to conform to male gaze centric beauty standards instead of helping to redefine what it means to be a woman?

After obtaining hormones and making a social transition, bottom surgery for me was a given. I hated that part of myself more than anything else, so fixing it was a priority. That took time and work: multiple psychological evaluations, repeated laser hair removal in delicate areas, time gates, waiting lists, insurance criteria. Part of me still feels like I showed up fifteen years late, but once I started I made it over the finish line with a respectable time.

And now I’m done, and I’ve completed all my major goals: social transition, hormones, bottom surgery. I’m at a loss for what to focus on next. I’m much happier, but I’m not entirely comfortable in myself. Hair removal and voice therapy are ongoing, and I’m working on my empathy, my self confidence, my social anxiety, but none of these have discrete resolutions. It’s awfully tempting to consider other surgeries, but I want to do them for the right reasons.

I still look in the mirror, or hear my voice, and although I’m well into diminishing returns I’m not entirely happy. I’m lucky that many people think I look and sound cis (not trans), as we’re all socially conditioned to value normalization. But I‘ve trained myself to spot differences, and I have a lot of internalized transphobia. I’m my own worst critic and I can’t escape myself.