Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for February, 2010

I Sang!

Tonight there was a special extra night of Transcriptions, that wicked-groovy and inclusive queer open mic night, at St. Luke’s & St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church (S.L.A.M.), a small, progressive Episcopal church in Allston, MA. I adore Transcriptions. This is exactly what I meant the other day when I wrote about community. These amazing folks are one of my communities, and one of the one that makes me feel most alive, most cherished, most valuable.

Transcriptions happens on Thursday evenings, which is when my church services are at The Crossing as well. So, it’s a struggle to get there, but I make it work (ever other month I skip church to be there for the whole time, and every other month I dash over after church).

I’ve read my own poetry and blog posts and other folks poetry. The last couple time I haven’t really been prepared to perform. It’s getting to be a habit – lol. Anyway, last time I told a story about Arisia and read the blog post I wrote about kids who break gender stereotypes. This time, for whatever reason, I decided to finally sing. This requires some explanation. I don’t sing. I don’t sing back-up vocals when I drum. I just don’t sing in front of people. I’ll sing along to songs, sure, but I never sing in a way that I can’t hide my voice. And yet I decided to sing. This goes beyond any issues I’ve ever had with my voice not being feminine enough, it’s just that I’m really scared to sing in public – I don’t think I sing very well (though I also suspect that I could sing okay if I actually worked at it). But I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I finally felt like the time was right.

And I chose a very specific song to make my debut. It’s the song that I used to use to sing a very special little girl to sleep. It’s been two decades since I used it for that, but I still remembered it like I had sung it just yesterday. Before I sang I told the crowd why the song was important to me, and what it meant to me. Here’s the song I sang:

Okay, so yes, it’s a sort of weird song to sing a baby to sleep with, but way back in the day it was the song I knew, so it was what I sang to her. And it worked; for a time I was the only one who could get her to sleep. 🙂

Oh, and perhaps not surprisingly, I sing in a different key now. I started singing and I quickly had to adjust to how different my voice is since the last time I sang that song.

And then one of my best friends and one of the most special people in the world sang a song that she wrote (the ~first~ song she’s ever written – how brave is that?), and the Darling Boyfriend recited The Lorax (from memory!), and a few people shared personal stories of depth and power. I am always amazed both by the strength and courage of the performers at Transcriptions, but also at their openness and willingness to share the deepest, most profound things that I’ve seen folks share.

I could gush for a very long time about how much I think of this very special group of folks. It’s always special.

And then the evening ended with a performance by Beth Colegrove, who made me cry at least twice. Her voice was so pretty, so strong, so passionate, that it just touched me very deeply. I’d say that after seeing her performance I’m definitely a fan. It was such a treat to see such a great singer as I sat snuggling with the Darling Boyfriend.

Though even with all of that cool and grooviness, all I can think is that I SANG!

Penny sang.


One-Year Post-Op Update: Penny’s Excellent Adventure

[This is part of my ongoing diary about my SRS experience in Trinidad, Colorado with Dr. Marci Bowers. See the main page here: Penny’s Excellent Adventure.]

One year ago today I had the surgery that finally made me feel at home in my own skin.

So, this will probably be the last entry in my “Excellent Adventure” series. I suppose if I’m still writing in four years I may do a five-year update, but it’s getting to be pretty redundant. As I’ve written before, if this surgery is the right choice for you, it will change your life more than you can even imagine. And if it’s not right for you, it’s probably one of the worst things you could ever do (though, in fairness, even though I know there are people out there for whom this is true, I’ve yet to meet anyone who regrets having SRS). I think it’s needless to say that for me this surgery has been one of the best things I have ever done.

So, the obligatory, ~wow~, it’s only been a year. It feels like it’s been so much longer. I have trouble remembering what my body was like before.I’m pretty serious about that. It took 38 years for me to have my body corrected, and after one short year (and really this happened much more quickly, almost immediately, as a matter of fact) it’s difficult to remember that I wasn’t born with a vagina. It feels like I’ve always been this way. Perhaps that’s because I was waiting for this forever, and I finally have the body I imagined myself having all along; I dunno. I just know that it’s very hard to remember that 366 days ago I still had the wrong parts. A few other folks have said that it feels like longer than just one year as well (my mom insists that it’s been at least two years). I guess it has something to do with having transitioned a while before I had surgery, but I really do think it is also related to the fact that this feels so normal that it’s hard to remember a time when it wasn’t like this.

Having been through this, and having had to finance it myself, I am now more than ever convinced that this is a medically necessary surgery and should be covered by health insurance.

My healing feels essentially complete. I’ll explain a couple things that are going on.

First, the granulation tissue, which I wrote about here, here, here, here, and here, seems mainly resolved. It seems I still have some in the very back of my vagina, but it seems to be gradually resolving, and I’m still unsure whether I want to actually have my doc look into it or just let it slowly resolve on its own. I think I’m giving it another couple months. I’m really not very concerned about it at this point, I guess.

There are a couple other things that bear mentioning. Because I still have some internal granulation, I’m still spotting and wearing pantie liners everyday (though a liner is more than enough). When I dilate, the dilators have slight stains right at the tip, and sometimes when I have sex there is a slight bit of bleeding. Also, the spot near my clitoris where I had some granulation treated has a weird indent. It seems purely cosmetic – there is no discharge from that area, and it doesn’t bother me, as it takes a very close examination to notice it (it’s sort of buried under my clitoral hood), but I figured I’d mention it. The external granulation seems to have been completely resolved.

My urethra seems ~big~. Like, sometimes I feel like there’s a big gaping hole there. I wonder how I’m not incontinent (which I’m not – not even a little) with such a big urethra. I spoke with another woman who had SRS and it seems like this may be a common outcome. It doesn’t seem to create too much of a problem in and of itself, but it does cause two related issues. First, I often make a mess when I pee. Before I had surgery I told my therapist that I just wanted to pee straight. Well, no cigar. It’s not too bad, honestly, but it can be disconcerting, and it means I just have to make sure I pay attention when wiping. The other issue is that sometimes I worry that my boyfriend will go for the wrong hole in his exuberance (ironically, I only have this fear when he’s using his hand, never when he’s using his penis – huh, weird). I think once he just about did and it just has made me nervous ever since. I think I’m mostly being paranoid. I could have a revision, but it honestly doesn’t seem like a super-big deal, so I’ll probably stand pat for now.

My scars have faded more than I ever expected them to. I’ve let my hair grow in a pretty natural way, and with the bit of hair, and the natural skin color, my scars are virtually undetectable. I had issues with lots of swelling on my left labia, and  it seems like that did not hinder the healing and fading of my scars in any way.

Basically put: it looks like a pussy.

However, there are a couple other things I should say about its appearance with the help of my Darling Boyfriend’s perspective. (Here’s the wiki on the vagina for reference.) First, he’s not a gynecologist, but he is an anatomy geek (and he’s a biology teacher), so his eye is probably keener than most. He said that on a cursory visual inspection, he would not be able to tell that my vagina was surgically constructed, and that groping in the dark he wouldn’t be able to tell. However, he’s been down there a couple times with the lights on, peeking around, and he said that it does look different from other pussies. First, my labia minora doesn’t completely encompass my vaginal opening (I think this has to do with both the swelling that I experienced, as well as having so much granulation tissue removed). Next, my vestibule is quite long, and my perineum is quite short (Dr. Bowers even mentioned at the time that I had a very short perineal body); this has resulted in my vaginal opening being very low. And then, of course, once he got inside he definitely noticed that I don’t have a cervix. And he’s said that my vagina is very tight (in his words: “not a bad thing”), and that it’s very round. Having said all that, in his words, “No complaints.”

Every once in a while I’ve seen women who’ve had vaginoplasty say that no one can tell that they have a neovagina, not even their gynecologist. Simply put, if you’re gynecologist can’t tell – you need a new gynecologist. Dr. Bowers’ work is amazing, but there are some differences between original and after-market parts, and that’s just reality. It isn’t good or bad, it just is. (This paragraph, and really this whole diary, is here just to try to paint as clear a picture as possible as what someone can expect from having vaginoplasty. It’s like anything else, your mileage may vary, but I worry about folks having either unrealistically positive or negative views of this surgery and what actual outcomes are like.)

As far as the “realness” of either my vagina or my femaleness, both the Darling Boyfriend and my ex-boyfriend have had basically the same reaction (summed up by my ex: “fake pussy my ass”). There’s a sexist piece of conventional wisdom that I confess to spreading that “men are stupid and women are crazy.” Yes, sue me, I have some sexist notions sometimes. Anyway, on that point, the Darling Boyfriend has shared that he “never expected to find a sane pussy anyway.” I dunno, maybe it should raise my feminist ire, but I certainly have my crazy moments, so it just seems cute to me.

Orgasms have become gradually easier to attain as I have learned how my body works. I’m sort of an orgasm machine at this point. I can lose them if the mood goes awry, but let’s just say that as far as orgasms go, I’m very happy.

I have about 5.25″ of depth, which is about .25″ less than I had immediately after surgery. Considering how little donor tissue I had, I am extremely pleased with this amount of depth. I’m dilating several times a week, sometimes with “help,” and sometimes on my own. I still feel like several times a week is important to keep the depth I have, so I probably won’t back down too much just yet.

My metabolism seems to have completely stopped since I had surgery. The operating room felt like a meat locker, and I’ve been cold almost consistently since then. They had me wrapped in warmed-up blankets after surgery, and I felt snuggy, but since then it’s been so easy for me to get cold. Also, between my metabolism slowing down and being inactive for so long during my recovery, I’ve put on about 60 pounds. I have struggled with my weight for my whole life, and this is hardly the biggest I’ve been, but it is frustrating to have regained so much weight. I finally feel healthy enough to really start tackling the weight issue again.

Beyond all the physical stuff, I have to talk about how having had surgery has made me feel. For the first time in my life I feel normal, I feel like a whole person, I feel peaceful. The constantly nagging voice in my head screaming that ~something is wrong~ has fallen silent. I still have joys and sorrows, and my life isn’t perfect. But my life finally feels like ~my~ life. I’m not trying to be someone, I just am someone. This is a shift that I don’t feel I can adequately put into words. My social transition allowed me to interact with the world as myself, but my SRS has enabled me to interact with my own body as myself. It’s quite profound. Having lived 38 years trapped with the wrong parts has made me so exquisitely grateful of having the proper body. As I said in the note that I wrote to thank Dr. Bowers and Carol, “[I am] whole and complete.”


Now, don’t tell anyone…

“Now, don’t tell anyone that your father and I were never married.”

Such was the admonishment of my mother when I was just barely old enough to tell people about myself. You see, I am the product of an affair; my father was indeed married when my mom got pregnant with me, he was just married to someone other than my mother. And so my mom thought that the best strategy for me was to keep this detail hidden. She thought that being an illegitimate child was a weight that I shouldn’t have to carry, irrespective of whether or not it was the truth. My mother and grandparents taught me to be very private about personal details. To quote my Gram, “Why would anyone else want to know your business.” Some of my friends have also counselled me both to keep my own details more private and, at times, to mind my own business.

But I have always been a sharer, and a storyteller; I have always shared too much and been too curious. Sometimes I wonder if the term TMI (“too much information”) was coined with me in mind. I have not infrequently given friends more details than they needed or wanted, and I have certainly done my fair share of prying.

It’s always been in my nature to want more details rather than less. Even when I understand why a movie was edited in a certain way, with scenes taken out to make the movie a stronger more cohesive whole, I love deleted scenes and extended versions. I am voracious for details. And I share details freely. And I have found that by sharing details many people feel safe sharing details back with me; it has been a great way for me to forge deep connections with people.

There’s also something about the way my brain works that when there’s an elephant in the room, it causes a great deal of stress on me. The most effective way I’ve found of dealing with that stress is just talking about it. That again proves too much for some folks, and I’ve found myself trying to ride the line between my own stress at hidden details and other people’s need for either sharing or hearing less.

Given all that information, when I was a child, with my mom’s clear instruction to keep my beginnings a secret, all I could think about when meeting new people was what I wasn’t supposed to say. I remember thinking I had nothing to be ashamed of, for even as my mom told me to keep it private she made it clear that it wasn’t out of shame. But the fact that I wasn’t supposed to talk about it made keeping the secret unbearable for me. I used to joke that when I met people when I was a little kid the first words out of my mouth would be, “Hi, my name’s Penny. My parents were never married.” And then it was out of the way, for good or ill.

Discretion is pretty much the conventional wisdom when it comes to my medical history as well. It’s one of those things that’s “nobody’s business” and that I’m not supposed to talk about. And, much like my status as a child born out of wedlock was something that I felt more comfortable sharing than keeping private, so too, more often than not, is my medical history. I share details about myself pretty often, and in many different contexts.

I have mixed feelings about this, I suppose. Sometimes I fantasize what it would be like to just let the details of my past fade into obscurity. But that really has never been my style. I have always shared everything, worn my heart on my sleeve, and tried to connect with others in the most nakedly open ways possible. Interestingly, the only times I’ve had trouble sharing things is when I was keeping them even from myself, perhaps that plays into all of this; it’s a lot easier for me to delude myself if I’m not sharing things and getting feedback; and maybe things aren’t really real until I’ve shared them with friends.

But I totally understand those folks who keep details of their lives more private than I have chosen to. I have friends and I read blogs and I hear stories about people who have chosen to keep all sorts of details of their stories closer to the vest than I have. And I understand, and I honestly think it’s probably wise for most folks. Openness brings a fair amount of scrutiny, after all. I have this delusion that I live partial stealth, and that I keep things fairly private, and yet I’ve had people tell me that I’m “tranny famous,” and that makes it clear exactly how “partial” my stealth really is. I’m sort of conflicted about that, and yet it’s a reflection of how I have always chosen to interact with the world.

A last thing that I think is important, is how much I like to connect the disparate parts of my life into one cohesive whole. I read a blog post earlier today about how we wear different faces in different parts of our lives. There was an example cited from Seinfeld talking about “worlds colliding.” I guess I actively promote my worlds colliding. One of my favorite things in the world is to introduce people that I know from different corners of my life to each other. I brought my ex to church and had tons of fun both showing her off to my church friends, and showing my church friends off to her. I like nothing more than having friends come to see my musical performances, both because if helps me professionally, but also because I love having friends meet the people I work with. The one exception to this is my students, because they’re my students. My relationships with them are completely about making them better drummers, and so my personal details are irrelevant. But I really strive to have one connected, consistent identity in all the different corners of my life, and a great way for that to happen is to just keep introducing all of my friends to each other.

Having said all of this, and having explained why being so open has always been important for me, and felt very natural for me, I generally advise people to exercise more circumspection when sharing personal details about themselves. I think that being so open works for me because of my personality and my upbringing and my circumstances. I have great respect for those who choose to share fewer details, especially online or in an otherwise generally public sort of way.

I think there are lots of ways to share stories, and lots of ways to protect privacy, and I’m a big supporter of each of us figuring out how best to do that for ourselves.

Trigger Me Intersex

I’ve talked about the surgery that I underwent when I was three a few times. I usually don’t bring it up because it can trigger too many things. To recap, and this is from my mom’s recollection since my medical records from back then are long gone, I had surgery when I was three that was purportedly to resolve an undescended testicle. It turned out that the surgeons removed something instead. They told my mom that they removed “a mass.” I still have that scar. I remember being in the hospital; I remember riding around in the little wheelchair/cart that they gave me after the surgery (these are some of my very earliest memories).

I’m very happy with my life now, and I do think it’s important to point that out.

I also should mention that I am 100% opposed to non-emergency or essential surgeries done on babies and children before they have reached the age of consent. Yes, that includes circumcisions. Leave babies alone. Stop trying to “fix” people!


It’s probable that I had an under-developed testicle and that removing it was the proper medical decision. Externally I had arguably normal male genitalia; I had a very small penis and one testicle. But who knows what was going on internally. It’s possible that I had some form of intersex condition. Sometimes I wonder if what was removed from me when I was three was more akin to an ovotestis. Every once in a while I let myself imagine that what was taken from me was a healthy ovary. With eggs.

But I’ll never know. It’s probably just as well that I’ll never know. Considering the possibility, no matter how remote, that I may have had eggs that were stolen from me sends me into some pretty dark emotional territory.

Usually it’s easier for me to just see myself as a plain old transsexual. Considering any of this stuff makes me feel an extreme loss of agency, autonomy, and self-determination. Intersex conditions are so varied and so understudied that it isn’t easy to just say one way or the other. I’ve heard the fairly common condition of undescended testicles referred to as “ambiguous genitalia,” for example. There was a time when I wished that I was intersex, but that was when I was struggling with self-acceptance and felt that a tangible biological cause for my feelings of being in the wrong body would help to explain things, if even only to myself. It gradually became a moot point for me as I let go and stopped caring about the ~why~ that I am the person that I am.

But every once in a while something will trigger a thought and I’ll start to wonder if I was, in fact, robbed of something special and irreplaceable.

Anyone who reads my blog or knows me knows that lately I’ve been struggling with my infertility. It comes and goes. It’s the heaviest cross I have to bear. And when I struggle with infertility my mind almost invariably wanders to that long-ago surgery.

And I usually tune it out, and tell myself I’m being silly, and that the odds of it having been a healthy ovary that was taken from me are vanishingly small. So small as to be not worth consideration. And I content myself with the hope that someday I will find a child who needs a mommy as much as my heart needs them, and we will be a family.

And then I read something like this:

Which contains these links:

***Fertile individuals who have fathered children can have a uterus.***

***A fertile individual who has fathered two children can have an ovary with follicles and devloping ova. This individual also has a Fallopian tube and a uterus.***

***A fertile individual who fathered a child and also had an ovary with ovarian follicles and evidence that ovulation also occured. It is the first case where cytogenetics and not just a buccal smear was used***

And then I’m forced to wonder yet again just what, ~exactly~, was taken from me without my consent when I was three.

Community Grows

I realized something the other day: I am a member of several diverse and wondrous communities. The word “community” gets thrown around a lot, and it has unfortunately developed a bad rap in some circles. It is often assumed that when people have something in common, they will automatically have an affinity for each other, and be part of some grand community. It’s been my experience that this is not necessarily the case. And yet, random similarities have strongly influenced the selection of people that I’ve had the opportunity to meet, so it’s pretty clear that sometimes those little things in common do bring me into community.

Here are some examples.

A couple of my best friends are my friends only because we’re drummers. And further, I have many friends that I have only met because we are musicians. I suppose I belong to a class that is labeled “musician,” and drummers really do tend to stick together, but my real communities are with those musicians whom I actually know and have relationships with.

Recently I found myself in a band made up of all transsexual women. I had always resisted being in a “tranny band.” Yet, this band was not formed to be a band made up of transsexual women as some sort of gimmick. Yes, we did have the opportunity to meet because of our unique similarities, but we decided to make music together because of the music. Just because we met didn’t mean we would get along so well, we just happened to.

That brings me to the GLBT community, or more specifically the T (Transgender, Transsexual, whatever) community. I have tons of friends that are gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans* (or poly for that matter), and many of them I have met because we have this in common, but I’m not friends with anyone ~because~ of their sexual identity or orientation. How shallow would that be? And yet, because I have had the opportunity to meet so many people with that in common, many, many of my friends are some part of the alphabet soup.

And I’m also a member (and part of the leadership team) of a Christian worship community. There seems to be no end to the diversity amongst Christians. We’re all related by our belief in Christ, but the very meaning of that most basic tenet is so contentious that considering all Christians as part of the same community seems a stretch. My connection to my Christian community is based on more similarities than just one belief.

The Darling Boyfriend has gotten me playing games, so I’ve met a bunch of gamer geeky folks. And I’m starting to become a part of this community that I have admired from the outside for so long. But still here I connect or don’t connect based on deeper stuff than just having games in common with someone.

And there’s this queer open mic night called Transcriptions. I’m this little vanilla straight woman (yes, fine, with a transsexual history, but still) and I feel incredibly welcome in and connected to this amazing group of folks. This is certainly one of my favorite groups of folks, and I am pleased to call myself a member of this community. And I found them because of my history, but I’m not a member of the community because of my history, it’s because we are friends.

So I am a member of many communities, but I don’t really think of myself as part of any community based on a superficial characteristic.

But then community is a pretty personal thing to me; it’s difficult for me to think of myself as part of a community if I don’t know most if not all of the people in the community, and I tend to find my own communities: musician, Christian, trans*, Swede, geek, queer, or any other particular specificity doesn’t determine my feeling of belonging in a community.

And so I understand why people chafe at being lumped into communities by others. It’s one of the strongest ways in which we connect to others, and to have those choices made by others can be frustrating.

I confess that I’m surprised to find myself as a member of some of the communities that feel most like “home,” and places that I might think would be great for me feel quite foreign.

We make our own connections.

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