Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for SRS

Transsexuals Reinforce Sexism

One of those pesky issues that transsexualism bumps up against is sexism. My transsexualism was very much physically based. What I mean by that is that while it’s true that a large part of my dysphoric feelings were around my gender presentation and perception, in retrospect it seems that an even bigger part of my issue was around my body. I hated my body; well, certain parts, but I think my meaning is clear. When I was very young I was aware that I hated parts of my body. It was young enough that I’m fairly certain that it was a literal example of a “girl brain [or soul] in a boy body.” And that very concept is what I want to talk about.

I’m going to talk about this in a fairly loosey-goosey sort of way. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, and so everything I say should be taken as my opinion and my sense of understanding of the biologic and neurological studies I have read mixed with personal experience. Again, take it for what it’s worth.

So, that’s sort of a problematic concept, eh? “Girl brain” implies “boy brain.” That feels one step away from reinforcing lots of sexist dogma that usually posits males as superior to females. There are some studies that seem to be showing some interesting differences, though, between males and females, especially in an area of the brain called the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis. Transsexuals appear to have that part of the brain that more closely aligns to the sex they perceive themselves to be. The studies are painfully small, and jumping to solid conclusions from these studies feels like it may be premature. And yet, it’s difficult for me not to latch onto these studies and scream: “See? This is exactly what I’ve been trying to tell you all.”

However, and this is super important, for every study that I’ve seen that shows differences between the brains of males and females, there is another study diminishing the differences and pointing out overlaps that calls into question just how much difference there really is.

Shouldn’t that call my narrative of having been born with a girl brain in a boy body into question?

I don’t think so, and here’s why:

Studies like these are usually about finding averages and ranges. It doesn’t surprise me for a second that there would be overlaps in studies like this, especially at the edges. Just as the average male has more upper body strength than the average female, that doesn’t really tell us much about a random male and a random female. So, too, I believe that just because there is separation in the averages, the very fact that there is overlap between the brains of males and females in most structures means that making too many assumptions about specific males and females is fraught with difficulty.

At this point, I believe our brains are incredibly complex and unique. There are so many different parts that make each of us who we are that there is bound to be differentiation as well as similarity. Picking out the specific elements that make each of us who we are is probably a little ways off. What I know is I believe that I was born with the relevant parts of my brain in the female range, and probably so far into the female range as to be outside the overlap between female and male; every study I’ve read, and everything I’ve ever felt has lead me to this conclusion.

So, we have one over-simplification out of the way, here’s another: I feel like a woman. I have no idea what that statement means. A thing that hung me up in my transition was trying to figure out what the heck “feeling like a woman” meant. It seems a ridiculous statement to me in so many ways. And yet, it’s the only way I can say it: I feel like a woman; I feel that I am a woman. A critique I’ve seen of this is that if I felt that I was Napoleon or a panda bear, it would be obvious that I was suffering from some sort of delusion. But those are false analogies; Napoleon was a specific person, and people aren’t panda bears. Males and females are biologically very similar, and are the same species, having a little separation in a place where there is often overlap in an unusual direction doesn’t seem that far a stretch. I’ve made my peace with the fact that some folks will think I’m crazy. I must note that any “crazy” I had in my personality really seems to have largely abated since my transition. Any anxiety and depression issues that I had seem tied to the fact that I was living the wrong life in the wrong body. My own empirical evidence seems to confirm that, for me, transition was the right thing to do and affirms the concept that I do feel like a woman and have a female brain. [I’m aware that a sample size of 1 is sort of worthless, but then I’m only talking about my life.]

So, from a biological and neurological standpoint, I don’t believe that transsexualism reinforces sexism. Yet, I’m very sympathetic to the notion that somehow, in some way, my transition spells out a certain delineation between men and women, and even male and female, that could be seen as problematic. During my transition, I recall vividly feeling the world change how it treated me, as people’s perception of my gender started to catch up with my identity. It would be dishonest of me to not say that I noticed what I considered a shocking amount of sexism in the world. However, as I have learned to navigate the world around me better over the last several years, I feel that the sexism I see, while certainly a problem, isn’t quite as overwhelming as I perceived at first. I believe that sexism is one of those pesky, nuanced issues that simply can not be reduced to one-dimensional concepts like “the patriarchy.” Just as I referenced earlier in the biological sense, there is a lot of overlap; the simple reality is that socially there is much blurring between the genders and much picking and choosing that people are able to do when presenting themselves. Is it a perfect balance? No, certainly not, but I don’t believe it’s as bad as it is often portrayed to be.

I don’t want to turn this into an examination of sexism itself. As I said, there is overlap and gaps and places where men and women, and male and female are barely distinguishable, and places where the differences are extreme. Sometimes the separations are benign, and sometimes they are very problematic. For me to deny that would be for me to deny all my learning and life experience up until this point.

Back to those overlaps and areas of separation. It is exactly those areas of separation, specifically within the brain, that I believe the pivotal trigger for transsexualism lives. I believe that I was always a girl and then woman. I believe that my social, presentational transition was about catching people up to who I really was. I didn’t transition from a man to a woman, I stopped being afraid and pretending to be something I’m not. Physically, at least in an outward sense, it’s fair to say that my transition was more about going from one side to the other. And yet, even in the physical sense, it seems like my body has always been in that area of the overlap and / or separation that would be comfortably in the female range. (I always said that I had my mom’s hips, for example, which is slightly flippant, but only slightly, as I’m using it as a concrete example to illustrate that there was always plenty about my body that landed at least in the middle of the spectrum, if not firmly in the female end.)

So, what about genetics? What about chromosomes? What about genitals? Well, unlike many folks with transsexualism, I have had my karyotype tested, and it is, in fact, XY. To some, this is exactly the evidence needed to declare me insane. From my perspective, though, it is exactly the proof that sex and gender are much more complicated than eighth-grade biology would have us all believe. As for genitals, I was born somewhere in that very broad range that is referred to as “ambiguous genitalia.” I had my first reconstructive genital surgery when I was three years old. What I was left with was also pretty well within what people would expect as male. Again, to me, that just lends evidence to the complexity and variance that describes the fullness of the human experience. Reading the science that is available, it’s clear to me that we still have more to learn, but it’s also clear to me that I am not crazy, that my reality, as I describe it, is well within the naturally occurring variation of humanity.

So, while I can understand the perspective that my transition and life somehow reinforces sexism and sexist principles, I just can’t see it that way. If we admit that sexism is a problem (and again, while stipulating that it’s a very large, very messy, exceptionally nuanced issue, I think it is), I believe that people born with transsexualism, rather than reinforcing the problem, can be exemplars of how similar men and women, and male and female, truly are. Honestly, I think elite athletes, where the difference between men and women, male and female, is so extremely delineated, as well as sexual procreation and childbirth, which is generally considered an area where male and female are on opposite ends of a spectrum can reinforce some of the negative principles of sexism far more strongly than a person born with transsexualism ever could.

The Trinity of Transsexual Transition

I’ve talked about how for me transition cured my transsexualism, but I think the understanding of transition is often overly-simplified. I believe that my transition involved three separate phases that were in their own ways three different transitions. I’m being a little silly, but I am going to point out how many things happen in threes; my transition is just another example of that. I think it’s important to tackle transition as its component parts to maintain clarity. When transition is used loosely, it can be confusing, and possibly even unhelpful as part of the discussion. I believe that intentionality around all of this language, especially the concept of transition, can be helpful when telling my story, but even more so it is essential in understanding the process I went through.

Transition is a lovely concept for understanding my story, both for myself and others. There are many types of transitions that people go through; childhood to adulthood, from one job or home to another, from one religion to another, and many others. Transgender and transsexual people use “transition” in a vague way that I think can sometimes be confusing, both to others and more importantly to themselves. It’s true that some transgender and transsexual people find the language of transition completely unhelpful, and I certainly don’t want to say that my usage of these terms is universal. But, I believe that when are used clarity is essential.

Transition of (Self) Acceptance or Diagnosis

The first transition I went through was the transition of acceptance, or diagnosis. This is a part of the process that I often see glossed over, but it is indeed a transition between one way of seeing oneself and another. I’m sometimes asked when I first knew that there was something wrong. The answer is always. As early as I can remember I knew that something was wrong. So why did it take so long for me to seek treatment? I sure had plenty of signs that in retrospect seem all too obvious as to what was going on. I even had specific moments of clarity when I was asking myself the right questions, I just couldn’t make the journey over the mountain to accept the truth.

In many ways, the transition of acceptance was the most difficult part of the journey for me to endure; it certainly took the longest. When I was very young I had no understanding that transsexualism was even a thing, and I just worried that I was alone in the world and crazy. I had no resources, no context, and saw no one anywhere in the world who seemed anything remotely like me. As I got older and gained a bit more knowledge about transsexualism (though very gradually) I still felt alone and crazy, but also thought that if I ever accepted the fact that I was suffering from transsexualism that I would lose everything; I felt like all my friends and family would disown me and I would be broken and alone. [The truth is so ridiculously opposite: I have more friends and am more well respected than I ever was before I transitioned.] I think it’s relevant that even as I became more aware of transsexualism, I didn’t see people who seemed they were “like” me; it made the process more confusing.

It was two specific people that helped me get over my fear (which I sometimes lump into repression and denial) and accept the diagnosis of transsexualism that finally enabled me to live my life. My ex-wife was instrumental in helping me accept the truth. She convinced me to attend my first support group and encouraged me to begin therapy. I can’t imagine my life being anywhere near as good as it is without her help and influence in my life. Heck, she accepted my womanhood before I could. The second person is my second therapist, who patiently helped me wend my way through all of my past struggles, fears, and questions to put it all together and take that step to be clear that I was indeed suffering from transsexualism. My first therapist clearly knew what the answer was, but she was unable to account for the fullness of my life at the time. Preserving my marriage was, at that time, my absolute highest priority. When my first therapist told me that I should consider the possibility that I might be a “secondary transsexual” (which is another term for “late transitioner,” or what I nowadays like to think of as a “late bloomer”) I was still unprepared to process the fullness of that reality, so I stopped seeing her and started seeing my second therapist. The process took longer with my second therapist than it may have with the first, but I believe that by that point in my life I needed to go at the speed I needed to go. [I’m happy to report that while my ex-wife is indeed still my “ex-wife,” there is a surprising and very happy turn to the that story, which I’ve documented a bit in the past, but further details should probably wait for a future chapter of the story.]

My transition from denial and repression to self acceptance was the longest part of the story, by a long stretch. It was also the hardest; I often left therapy feeling as drained as if I had been through an intense workout. I stumbled many times along the way, caught in fear and doubt. I was so afraid that accepting that I was suffering from transsexualism would destroy my life. I guess in some ways it did, but it also broke apart all the shields and masks I had trained myself to wear over all those years of fear. In the end, once I accepted the truth, everything else was mostly a downhill slide; not that it was always easy, exactly, but at least the path was clear.

[I’m reminded of when I had my gallbladder out in my mid-twenties. Apparently, I didn’t present as a typical gallbladder patient and it took a year of excruciating gallbladder attacks before I was finally diagnosed. I vividly remember lying on the ultrasound table and having the technician say, “Oh yeah, lots of big stones.” Suddenly, even though I was still in blinding pain, I felt such a wave of relief come over me: my problem had a name, a diagnosis, and more importantly, a cure. That wave of relief is exactly the same way I felt once I finally accepted my transsexualism.]

 

Transition of Gender Presentation

After a few years in therapy, and decades of denial, I finally decided to transition my gender presentation. This is often referred to as “living as a woman [or man, depending on circumstance].” I find that language problematic. As I said in a previous post about language, I was always living as a woman; a woman who was confused to her wits’ end, but a woman just the same. Here’s a place where the language can get a little tricky, and I believe it’s imperative to be as clear as possible. My gender identity was girl then woman. What transitioned was my gender presentation and gender perception.

I suppose I could accept the phrase that I began “presenting as a woman,” since it was, after all, my presentation that transitioned at this point. It took sometime for people’s perception of me, my “gender perception,” to catch up with my change in presentation. Or, I guess it’s more fair to say that people’s perception of my gender sort of happened at a different pace than my presentation. I was being seen as a girl not infrequently when I was fairly young (as a slight aside that I’ll address more fully in a later post, I grew small but noticeable breasts when I was 11). When my facial hair came in, that mostly put an end to that. I began hair removal about two years before my gender presentation transition, and once that began, people were gradually more and more perceiving me as a woman (sometimes with hilarious results, other times painful ones).

There was a period of time during which people were able to tell that I was about to or had just transitioned my gender presentation. There was my therapist who informed me that I had been presenting “androgynously” for quite some time (I literally had no idea – I thought I could still “butch it up” when I needed to, apparently I was confused), and the mother of one of my students who, after my presentation transition, adorably said that she had “seen it coming.”

It was several months before I had completed enough hair removal and grown into the naturalness of my self before I stopped being seen as someone in transition, and just as a woman. Nowadays I’d say that I’m incorrectly perceived as a man about as often as any other woman who is over six feet tall.

[A thing that I know is difficult for lots of folks who are uncomfortable with their gender presentation or perception in some way is when they are misgendered, that is, seen or perceived as a gender that doesn’t match their gender identity. After speaking with lots of friends who have no issues with their gender identity / presentation / perception, though, it has become apparent that most people are misgendered from time to time. There was a mental shift that helped me immensely with this. One time I was in the drive through at a fast food place, and after I ordered at the speaker, the woman gave me my total and said, “Please drive around, sir.” I was crushed. This was a few years after my presentation transition and even though that happened rarely I still just felt really crappy when it did. But a funny thing happened next: when I got to the window the woman took one look at me and said, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry [for calling you “sir”]. I hate it when that happens to me.” And with that one seemingly miniscule act of sisterhood, that woman let me in on the secret that she gets misgendered sometimes too, and that she hates it too. And suddenly, I remember vividly thinking that I was going to stop worrying so much about it. My exact thought was: my voice is a woman’s voice because I ~am~ a woman. Ever since then, since I’m more relaxed about it, I believe that I have been able to more fully and peacefully inhabit my gender presentation. Also, since then, in the odd moments that I am misgendered, it’s not so big a deal – it happens to almost everyone from time to time.]

Nowadays I barely think about it. With my gender identity, presentation, and perception in alignment, I just sort of live my life. I still think about it (obviously), but much more in a macro, philosophical, and perhaps even spiritual sort of way. Now when I think about gender it’s much more about trying to find a way for everyone to understand each other (a tall order, I know). But I vividly remember those bouts of what’s termed “gender dysphoria,” that questioning state of wondering what was wrong, and then knowing that it was related to gender but still not really knowing what to do about it. Having completed my transitions, I no longer feel those bouts of dysphoria; my life isn’t perfect, of course, but that specific element of my life is just gone, healed. Cured.

Sex Transition

My third transition was my physical, or “sex,” transition. That’s well documented in my Excellent Adventure series, so I won’t go into too much detail on the actual process. What I will say is that in some ways this transition was the easiest. Doubt had melted from my mind at this point; as I ventured to Colorado those five years ago I was on a mission, as my therapist described it: a victory.

This is perhaps the most straight-forward transition, and therefore I have the least to say about it. To use the terminology I’ve been presenting so far, when I was born my sex identity was female, but my sex presentation and sex perception were both male. My genital reconstruction surgery was about making my physicality as female as currently possible by medical science. I have little doubt that in the fullness of time treatment will progress to the point of amazement, and women like me will be able to produce their own eggs and have babies (and menstruate – yay? – but it all goes together). Likewise, men in the “opposite” position that I was will be able to produce sperm and father children. Medical science is amazing, and learning things all the time. It’s probable that treatment for other infertile people will spread and treatments will be available for people with transsexualism.

Once my body was as female as possible, I think it’s fair to say that my sex presentation and sex perception had become in alignment with my sex identity.

 

The word transition is often overly-simplified when related to transsexual and transgender people. Again, I feel it’s important to be clear when we’re talking about this stuff. Transition can mean many things to many different people, and if we’re not careful, we can communicate the wrong thing when we’re speaking about transitions. I understand that sometimes being euphemistic can be a bit easier and some of these topics can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing to some, but I think the only way to make people understand is to be open and honest and as absolutely clear as possible.

The Transsexual Cure

I’m going to start this by saying that I believe in souls. I don’t know what they are, but I believe in them. Perhaps they’re the emergent property of the culmination of all the organisms, both macro and micro, that share the same physical space that make “us” into the person we think of as “us.” Perhaps the soul is a gift from God. Perhaps we are eternal beings that have been exploring the universe since the dawn of time. My favorite way of explaining it nowadays, is that the soul is the means by which the universe experiences itself. But I still can’t explain anything about the soul; I just believe we all have one. For me, the soul is that deepest, strongest, truest sense of self that a person has.

My soul is a girl. My soul was always a girl. My soul will always be a girl because my soul is me and I’m a girl. [I could just as easily use “woman” in the previous sentence, I guess using “girl” instead is an acknowledgment that my soul is also young at heart.]

It took a long time for me to accept that fact. But it is the only thing that makes sense. I was totally willing to accept the possibility that I was crazy. I have always been what I call a rationalist about this stuff. I remember sitting in 8th grade Algebra 2, thinking that I thought I was a girl. My brain’s answer so often was, “Um, have you looked in your crotch?” And that circle played itself forever. Of course, I also remember when I was six years old trying to essentially rip the damn thing off (over and over again), so I think my brain always knew the solution to the problem, it just took a very long time to get to it.

This preamble is all to clarify why I see myself as cured. I’ve lived these four decades plus, and I’ve examined myself more than most people ever will. I was completely willing to accept another explanation for what was going on, for what I was feeling. But nothing else made sense. I’ve read all the folks who think transsexualism is a mental disorder, and I always found their evidence lacking. I understand that it can be sort of intuitive to think that a person with one apparent body would claim to be the opposite [I know “opposite” is the terrible word here, but I think I need it for context] sex. But it seems like every new study finds more and more clues about what transsexualism is and where it comes from, and, to extremely over-simplify the case, the evidence gradually seems to suggest that what happened with me was: girl brain/boy body.

Given that, for lack of a better word, diagnosis, fixing my body seemed the thing to do. The bulk of medical science agrees with me. And my soul is a girl. ~I~ am a girl. One of the weird things about transsexualism is that it is almost wholly self-diagnosed. When people say they’re transsexual there’s little to do but believe them, there’s really no way to categorically say that they are wrong. It’s why I’m a fan of counseling for transsexual patients; this can be a confusing question to answer, and expert guidance can be helpful. I remember a silly “diagnostic question” that I found somewhere many years before my self-acceptance. The question was: If a pill existed to take this away, would you take it? Well, wait, that’s not right, there were two different questions. The most common was: If there were a pill that could make you a normal man, would you take it? I always knew that the answer to that question was “no.” [This is actually one of the main reasons why I don’t think that I was suffering from a mental disorder – if it was just a mental disorder, a pill would have been a Godsend.] The other question was: If there was a way to back in time and make it so you were born normal [the dreaded “n-word], would you take it? I always knew the answer was “yes; I would be born as a normal girl.” This set of questions was actually very helpful getting me to my last point of acceptance. Everything just started clicking after these questions and answers (among lots of other things, of course).

So, given all that, I came to the conclusion that I was suffering from transsexualism. This diagnosis was supported by every medical professional I spoke with. Every step made more and more sense, and diagnosis (I really prefer that over “acceptance”) made a profound difference in my reality. People around me insisted that my facial features were changing before I even began taking hormones. The way I described the way the hormones made me feel is that I felt more “like me” (whatever the heck that means). The hormones lessened some of that pain in my head, some of that dysphoric feeling receded. My social transition, during which I changed my gender presentation, helped to be sure, but once I began making physical changes, the healing was profound. I remember when I went to Colorado to have my genital reconstruction surgery, and how lovely everyone in the hospital was. It was so clear that they all understood what was going on: the woman at check-in; the cute young phlebotomist; the nurses (who were ~amazing~). The attitude I got from these people was: you poor dear, let us help fix you up and make you well.

Make you “well.”

That word is mine, not theirs, but that was very much the attitude I got from the folks in the hospital. But it jibes with my experience. They were going to cure me; or, maybe, they were going to be the final step of my treatment that would leave me cured.

I remember waking up in the hospital, and I can’t say that the word “complete” came to mind, which I’ve heard other women like me use. What came to mind was the realization that I was done. There was healing left to be done, to be sure, but my body felt like it fit for the first time in my life. Recovery took me over a year, but I was recovering physically as a female.

So, using the language from my last post about language: When I was born, my gender identity (which I believe is non-malleable) was girl/woman, my gender presentation was ever so slightly ambiguous but mainly boy/man, and my gender perception was boy/man. Likewise, at my birth my sex identity (which, again, I believe is non-malleable) was female, my sex presentation was ever so slightly ambiguous but mainly male, and my sex perception was male. After my surgery all of them were in alignment; the gender pieces were all “woman,” and sex pieces were all “female.” And it felt good.

I know that the concept of a “cure” for transsexualism bothers some people. I don’t know what to say about that. Are there folks who choose not to have surgery? Sure. Are there folks who are unable to have surgery but otherwise desire it? Absolutely. Does my paradigm leave some people stuck in a perpetual “uncured” state? Perhaps. I guess that’s for them to say. I even believe that some folks who have surgery don’t see it as a “cure.” I try to be incredibly sensitive to the ways in which other folks tell their story, but I have to tell mine honestly, or else there’s no point at all.

And make no mistake: My soul and my body match, and I am cured.

So, if any part of my story resonates with you and you’re wishing you could be cured, you can. If anyone tells you that there is no such thing as a cure for transsexualism, they are lying [a kinder way to say it would be that they are mistaken]. If anyone tells you that transition goes on forever, and you will never be done, they are wrong. There is a cure, and transition can end.

Bone Dry

TMI warning. This is one ~those~ posts that’ll be pretty personal and maybe graphic. If that’s too much, please consider this as one to skip.

So, less than a month ago I was lamenting that I was having a little bit of spotting in this post. I’ve also mentioned a few times that I’ve still been wearing panty liners everyday. I was having pretty random discharge, and so I didn’t necessarily need them everyday, but I had to wear them everyday. It wasn’t too bad, but I sort of started to feel like it was a perpetual thing that I would have to live with forever.

Well, within a couple days of that post I referenced, I had another experience of annoying spotting – fresh blood when I wiped after peeing and some discharge. I was as annoyed like I always was. I was still debating seeing my doctor about it. After all, I had surgery in February, 2009. I know my body heals slowly, but over eighteen months seemed like an exceptionally long time, even for me.

But then, as I was still putting off going to the doctor about it, it just stopped. At first I figured it was more of the same. I expected the discharge would reappear within a few days. I had times before when I would have no discharge for days at a time, and then I’d have a day with moderate discharge out of the blue. There seemed to be no pattern, but it seemed like it always came back. So at first I was hesitant was to get excited about a few days with no discharge. But the days stretched to weeks, and my liners remained dry.

I was skeptical. But the dryness persisted.

Finally, I decided to be brave and go without a liner in my panties for a few hours, and then a whole day. They were bone dry.

I’m pretty ecstatic. It seems like the internal granulation tissue has finally fully healed. It’s still possible that I could have some discharge, I suppose (I guess I’m still a little skeptical), but it’s been a couple weeks at this point, and nothing. So I’ll be braving it for a while, and I really think I’m through wearing liners, unless something unforeseen happens.

One slightly less positive side-effect of the healing of the granulation tissue is that I seem to be less self-lubricating when I have sex, which makes sense. That’s a minor annoyance, but something I can certainly live with. It’s better to be fully healed.

I think my healing has been very personal. I think it’s important to share my story so other folks contemplating SRS can see one potential outcome. But, like anything else YMMV, so I don’t really want to say that healing from SRS typically takes 18 months, or that in 18 months everything will definitely be perfect. This is my story, and is just one possibility. I share it just so there are as many possibilities as possible out there.

But, yay. Eighteen months after surgery I think I’m fully healed (yep, that’s ~slow~ healing right there). It feels really nice. And super yay, I get to stop wearing panty liners every single day.

Sucker Punch

I feel like I now have to process a loss for something I didn’t think I had until four weeks ago. I feel like I’ve been sucker punched.

I emailed my surgeon about the report saying that my “uterus … is within normal limits.” She said that I don’t have a uterus. She essentially said that unless she mentioned it at the time there wasn’t anything that she noticed as worth noting about my body. Which, I suppose, is kinda weird. Not, “there’s nothing in the notes” or, “your chart shows…” Just, “If I didn’t mention it, there’s nothing there.” It felt maddeningly vague in the way that I always feel doctors talk to me about my body. She also made a heartless joke about the (lack of) possibility of me menstruating, which made the whole conversation really frustrating. She also said some things that I believe to be patently false, so while I believe her generally about my body, it does make me wonder about her opinions of intersex conditions in general.

I got home from a vacation today to find the initial report that started this whole thing waiting for me, with this addendum:

“Initially what was thought to be a uterus, actually is non-specific soft tissue in the rectovesical space, which could be a Mullerian duct remnant. No well defined full-size uterus is seen.”

Dammit.

I frickin’ knew it.

A month ago I had no inkling that I had a uterus. Why would I? When I saw the initial report from my CT scan I was bowled over. I was given something that I hadn’t been seeking, that has now been yanked back. I really am quite tired of doctors messing with my feelings, whether intentional or not.

I tried really hard for the last few weeks to stay detached from the possibility that I might have a uterus. I honestly felt it seemed like too big of a discrepancy.  I had this sneaking suspicion that it was just another way that doctors were, intentionally or not, messing with my head. But of course I sort of built up some emotion around the idea. I began wondering about “my uterus” and such. This hurts, and I’m not even sure why. It’s not like a uterus with nowhere to go would do me any good anyway.

But dammit, how can I feel like something I never had was taken away from me?

And still, the answer always seems to come back to: “Well, there’s something weird about your body, we just don’t know what the heck it is.”

Gee. Thanks.

I guess I just feel like my dealings with doctors in the last few weeks has sort of gone like this:

“Hey Penny, guess what?”
“What?”
“You have a uterus.”
“I do? Wow. Cool. I guess. Maybe. Weird. But cool, sure. Definitely cool for some inexplicable reason.”

“Hey Penny, you know, about your uterus?”
“Yea?”
“Psych!”

I might have a uterus – insert dramatic music here…

I found out today that I have a uterus. Maybe. It’s something I’ve gotten used to, this not really having any definitive answers about my this body of mine. One of my earliest memories if being in the hospital when I had my first surgery. It’s just a flash of a memory, but I remember being in a room and having a little cart for me to be pushed around in. The memory is from after the surgery. To catch anyone up who doesn’t know, the surgery was ostensibly to remove an undescended testicle, though once the surgery was completed the doctors only told my mother that they removed a mass and that they didn’t know exactly what it was.

As I’ve written about, I’ve wondered for quite a while about what, exactly, that mass might have been. Was it a malformed testicle? Was it a lump of undefined flesh? Was it an ovary?

The truth is that I’ll never know. And I guess that’s okay.

But it means that part of my history will always be sort of vague.

Today I got the results from a pelvic CT scan that I had a few weeks ago. The scan was for an unrelated test, and I was actually a bit surprised that I even had a CT scan. I had a physical today. I wasn’t as anxious as I’ve been for some of doctor visits lately, because I feel good and figured it was just going to be an “all is well” kind of thing. I was expecting to have an appointment be normal for a change. As we were going over the results of the scan, though, it became apparent that this was going to be another stressful doctor visit. My eyes quickly locked on the statement:

The bladder, rectum, and uterus are within normal limits.”

…uterus…within normal limits.”

~What!?~

I have to be honest; my first reaction was that the person who read it just saw that I’m a woman and assumed that I have a uterus. But my doctor said that shouldn’t be the case and ~would not~ be okay. We both sort of sat there for a minute, not completely sure what to make of this incredibly heavy piece of information. She decided that she should speak directly with the person who read the scan, and that she should do that right away, so she went to put in a call to the person who had read the scan originally.

As I waited for my doctor to make that call I sat in the examination room in my johnny and I was alone with my thoughts. What does it mean if I have a uterus? What does it mean if I don’t? Wishing, for some reason I can’t fully understand, that I do have a uterus, and yet simultaneously hoping that the surprises my body has thrown at me are finally over. What could it mean about my early surgery if I have a uterus? What complications might I have in the future if there’s a uterus hiding inside of me? Could this finally be the answer? All that filled my brain in those long minutes were questions. What the true state of my body could be. Not too long ago I actually started wondering that I might have a uterus, but now, presented with the actual possibility all I could think was, “No way.” I’m still processing the initial emotions even as I write this. I think the word is “shock.” I think it will take a while for the news to sink in. As I sat there I felt myself invoke one of my most tried-and-true defense mechanisms: my emotions shut down and I withdrew. I guess I really am used to this kind of question and pain, because as much I withdrew, I didn’t go near-catatonic as I can sometimes do. I’m writing about it and talking about it. And I was able to stay present in the moment, which helped me deal with what came next.

After about fifteen minutes, my doctor came back, having left a message to be paged when word came from the other doctor. We talked, and she told me that she finally got a glimpse of what it must be like to have so many questions about my body and my history. We talked about the “whys” of things, and I told her that I’m basically at peace with the “whys” of my life, though I do still have that conversation with God ever now and again. But I am concerned with the realities of my body and my history.

During this point she did my yearly exam down south, and said that my surgeon had done an excellent job and everything looked great. So, at least that’s good news (of course, I knew that already, but it’s nice to have confirmation).

After several minutes, the beeper went off, and my doctor returned the call. She made the call from the examination room with me sitting next to her. The same physician that had originally read my results was reading the scan again. The conversation went on for several minutes. It was one of those awkward conversations where I was the subject but also had to just eavesdrop on one side. I heard my doctor ask how the scan looked compared to a male, and ask a couple other questions, but most of the information was contained on the other end of the phone line.

When she got off the phone my doctor explained about the soft tissue in the pelvis. She told me that the person reading the scan had gotten out a magnifying glass and had someone else give them a second opinion. They said that it didn’t look like a normal uterus, but that it also did not look like a prostate. There seemed a general sense of “we don’t know.” I find it interesting that when it was initially read, whatever is there looked enough like a uterus to generate the comment that the “…uterus…[is] within normal limits.” It didn’t stand out enough to generate a “whoa, something’s amiss here.” And now they don’t know.

So now, here I am, more questions floating in my mind than have been there in quite some time, needing to sort out yet another part of my story. And it’s all right. I’m used to “we don’t knows” when it comes to my body.

My, How We Categorize Each Other

I’ve never cared much about the groups to which people belong. I’m human, and I do tend to lump people together in categories, especially people I don’t know, because it just sort of helps to keep track sometimes of populations of people that far outnumber my ability to have an accurate or detailed idea of everyone. These lumps are fuzzy and coarse, and I’m not remotely attached to them (so, if I label someone as “Brown-eyed” and later find out that they actually have hazel eyes that are only brown sometimes, I’ll have no problem letting go of my erroneous classification and I’ll hope that they weren’t offended by my mistake – similarly, I try not to be frustrated when someone mislabels me, because I know how easy it is to do). I hate labels and classifications, and yet I use them all the time just to keep track of folks. I have some friends who love Broadway Musicals; if I were to organize a trip to see “Evita” it would be helpful to know who I should ask. But then maybe a friend who usually hates musicals just happens to love “Evita” for some reason. So the distinctions are useful, but they can also be a trap if they’re held too rigidly.

I try to never use these lumps as ways of segregating folks. I have a hard time with spaces that are exclusive. My church is “Radically Welcoming,” the generally queer open-mic that I attend is certainly inclusive, when I open my house to my friends it is open to all of my friends. I become overwhelmed at rallies and sporting events because the “hive mind” feels oppressive to me (I’m very empathic, and I feel the weight of so many people thinking the same thing as suffocating – I find it physically uncomfortable).

I don’t understand why we don’t celebrate our differences. Labels are fine for groups of people, but they’re really too coarse to do a good job of describing individuals. Groups created around labels can be great, but I don’t understand why they need to be exclusive. I posted pretty regularly on a message board a few years ago, and the rule was that content could be moderated, but people would not be (so, anyone could post, they just had to stay on topic). I tend to live my life much that way, finding open assemblages of folks who come together as much out of some random commonality as any of their labels.

I simply have never understood why it is necessary for folks to work so hard at othering other folks. People are “gay” or “Republican” or “Communist” or “hippie” or “geek” or “hipster” or “straight” or “trans” or “Catholic” or “foreign” or “Irish” or whatever. And the labels aren’t really that problematic, honestly no matter what they are. So much of the trouble starts when people use the labels to be a form of “like me” vs. “not like me” which all too quickly turns to “like me (=good)” vs. “not like me (=bad).” I’ve mentioned before how I simply have never understood the prevalence of “us vs. them” thinking that so many people engage in. I watched liberals call George W. Bush “Hitler.” Now I’m watching conservatives call Barack Obama “Hitler.” It’s pretty depressing, and from my perspective I just can’t understand. I believe that people are generally good, and want what’s best. Good people can disagree. Why do disagreements turn into personal ad hominems so easily and so often? I get uncomfortable when my friends start bad-mouthing groups of people, it doesn’t matter which group is being slammed. My Darling Boyfriend says this is deep-seated and has to do with our tribal roots, but I hope and pray that we can grow beyond it and start to see all other people as connected to us.

I’m expected to think a certain way because of the groups I belong to – the labels I wear, and it’s as frustrating when friends do it as it is when people who dislike me do it. It might explain why my favorite label is, shockingly enough, “Penny.” When it comes down to it, the labels I wear, and the rules I break and follow, all combine to make me a unique whole. Shoving people into lumps can be useful sometimes, but everyone is unique, and I work hard to always remember that.

I’ve been watching several things happen online lately that have just made me so sad…

I’ve been reading and expanding some of my ideas on the Chartreuse Flamethrower. I’ve had trouble processing some of the ideas expressed there, but I think it’s important, most notably because I’m having trouble understanding. And I’m most interested in understanding folks different from me – I already understand me.

I read about one way of looking at being trans written by Dyssonance, and  I found myself disagreeing strongly with her thoughts. I have found the concept that my SRS was a “cure” to be just about the perfect way to express what was going on both internally and externally. But I’m not threatened that the idea that transition or surgery is a cure doesn’t work for everyone. For me, it was pretty clearly a physical birth defect. I get that different people have different experiences, and again, I think that’s really cool. Other folks’ experiences do not invalidate my own – how could they?

I read about the immigration law recently passed in Arizona, and the many people boycotting businesses in the state, and how that’s effecting trans folk in the state.

I read about ENDA, and how trans folk (and really anyone who transgresses gender stereotypes) may get stripped from the bill once again.

I read about how WPATH is encouraging the depathologization of trans folk in the new DSM, and how an intersex group feels that can lead to their further pathologization.  And I wish there was a way to make it possible for folks who want or need medical intervention to get it while not stigmatizing everyone who is either trans or intersex.

And I read Zoe Brain, whom I continue to think is the bees knees, talk about the incidence of intersex, and say this: “I just see that while there are two distinct sexes, there’s an area between, neurologically and anatomically, where things are not so straightforward. Someone can be neurologically usual, but otherwise anatomically unusual, or the reverse.” And I just think that makes so much sense, but then I wonder if that would make others feel squeamish (with the word “usual” being so close to “normal” and all).

I just can’t understand why defining oneself is so often a leaping off point for saying how others definition of themselves is either wrong or evil. I love the diversity of expression that I see in the world around me. And I’m always surprised by the people whom I end up loving and disliking. I’ve met Swedes and drummers and trans folk and Christians and liberals and conservatives and a million other people from a million other labels and descriptions, and whether I like or dislike them (and vice-versa) seems much more often to be about who we each are as people – not about their or my labels.

This post has turned into my usual quoting of Rodney King, Bilbo Baggins, and Bill & Ted, respectively: “Can’t we all just get along” … “I simply do not understand war” … “Be excellent to each other; party on dudes…”

But there it is – can’t we just be gentle with each other?

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