Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for GRS

“That’s a lot of granulation tissue”

I just got back from a visit to see a local surgeon. Pretty much the only ongoing issue in my healing is a little flap of skin that’s hanging off and expresses a bit of puss-like stuff. I sent pictures to my surgeon in Colorado who performed my SRS. She said that it looked like granulation tissue and that I should be able to have it taken care of locally. It took me a little pressing, but I found a local surgeon that was willing to look at me.

I was a bit stressed out due to a very emotional conversation with my boyfriend last night, so my emotions were shot to start out. The fact that the surgeon I went to see is a urologist didn’t help. Though, the department lists “female urology” as a specialty, and my mom has been to see a urologist, and my therapist, who is female, has seen this exact doctor, so I’m just being silly.

My anxiety built as I entered the building and rode the elevator to the sixth floor. While I was waiting in line for registration one of the office assistants called me “sir” – not a good start. She never corrected herself, but she was fine besides that.

As I waited in the waiting room I was hardly the only woman there, which helped to put me at ease a little. But while I was waiting for the office assistant for the surgeon who was going to see me, I caught myself absent-mindedly scratching my hand. It’s been a very long time since my anxiety lead me to engage in any sort of self-harm (I used to pull my hair, poke myself with pins, and scratch myself as “coping” and distracting elements). I can’t remember the last time I was that anxious.

After about forty-five minutes in the waiting room I was called in to see the surgeon.

I got to take my first ride in stirrups – oh joy!

When the doctor was first examining me he turned me into an impromptu teaching-tool for the nurse in the room. He pointed out my clitoris to her and explained that it was formerly the head of my penis, and also pointed out my urethral opening and vaginal opening. It was definitely sort of weird. I guess my status as a post-operative transsexual makes me enough of an oddity that I get to be used as a lab rat anytime I’m around medical folks. It’s weird, because I don’t really mind helping to educate, but the way it was done felt fairly dehumanizing. Oh well.

The surgeon said that I have a lot of granulation tissue, and he was hesitant to take it off; he thought there might be a bit of pain. I said that I have a fairly high pain tolerance and I felt comfortable with him taking it off. He said that it was too much to do today, so I had to make another appointment. He also said that beyond the granulation tissue it looks like I still have some healing going on.

The surgeon was actually pretty cool, and by the end of the appointment I felt much calmer and more positive, even with the couple stressy issues that happened along the way. Also, his office assistant is awesome and lovely, which always helps.

So I still have my granulation tissue for another month. In the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, but I wanted it done with; I’m tired of wearing pads everyday.

Three Month 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.]

Wow, has it only been three months?

Yep, apparently; three months ago today I had my SRS.

It may seem completely silly to say, but I really can’t even remember what having a penis felt like. I mean, d’uh, right. I know I had one, and I can remember having one, sort of, but it seems like such ancient history. Before surgery I tried to picture what I would look like with a vagina; I found it fairly difficult to imagine. Now, though, everything just looks so “right.” My vagina looks like it’s always been a part of me. My body finally feels like my own. Truly. And now I can’t really picture myself as ever having had a penis. Sweet. 😉

So, really, how’s it going?

Well, the healing has been going amazingly well. My labia have shrunk to much more normal proportions, and at this point the left side (which was the side that was “bigger than my head“) is smaller than the right. Even more impressive to me is how much the scars have faded. The scar on the right side is very faint already and the scar on the left side, which was the suture line that had all the issues, has begun to fade as well. Considering how things were just a few short weeks ago I am truly thrilled with this amount of progress.

I still have a little bit of numbness, but my sensation has been gradually coming back and the progress here too has been wonderful. It seems that at about nine or ten weeks post-op things really started getting much better pretty quickly. I’ve been continuing to explore my body, and am learning how everything feels and what sensations I respond to. As I mentioned here, I am orgasmic, which is quite lovely. 🙂 I’ve sort of lost track of how many orgasms I’ve had at this point (I think it’s eight, but that might not be right). Some orgasms have been very mediocre, and some have been earth-shakers. I’m gradually figuring it all out. Before surgery I found that pretty much the only way for me to have an orgasm and not lose my mind was with a vibrator (becuase I didn’t have to touch myself, basically); well, since surgery I ~do not~ like the vibrator. We’ll see if I grow into liking it, but for now I’m just fine without it, thank you very much.  :-p

One of the most exciting things about reaching this point in the process is that I drop my dilations from three times a day to twice a day. That middle-of-the-day dilation has just created all sorts of scheduling and motivational issues. I am really glad to be down to twice a day.

I do have one fairly minor issue which seems more frustrating than all that problematic. I have a little tab of skin on the left side right at my vaginal opening; it oozes a little bit (which requires me to still be wearing pads – grr!). I went to see my local doctor who didn’t really know what it was, so I emailed some pictures to my surgeon. It turns out it’s granulation tissue, and it seems like it’s not all that uncommon of an issue with this surgery and not that big of a deal to take care of. According to my surgeon it should be excised and it’s a quick and easy procedure. The slightly frustrating part has been finding a doctor in Boston that’s willing to see me. I never even realized before surgery that this would be an issue – one of the problems with having surgery 2,000 miles away from where you live. As my doctor said: “Surgeons don’t like to look at other surgeons’ work.” I felt very alone. Fortunately, I pushed a little, and my doc was able to find a surgeon at Boston Medical Center who’ll help me out. YAY!

My motivation and energy finally seem to be getting back to pre-surgical levels. I am surprised how long this has taken. I know it was major surgery, but it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking that all should be back to normal in a few weeks, and it just doesn’t work that way. The recovery time suggested by my surgeon was 6-8 weeks (I took about seven weeks off from work), but I really think that anyone having this surgery should expect a good three months before starting to feel back to normal. I’m finally feeling like myself, and it feels awesome!

So, I guess the short version of the update is that I am supa-happy with my new body and everything is going very well.

Hooray!

Theoretical Musing about Labels

   This is stuff I usually stay away from, but it’s been floating around in my mind for the last couple weeks, so I figured I’d write about it.

   I ~really~ thought that surgery [SRS] would be no big deal. I mean, I was living the life I had always dreamed of, and I knew surgery would make my head stop hurting every time I saw or thought about my crotch, but what was ~really~ going to change?

   heh

   So, now, not quite three months after surgery I recognize what absolute twaddle that was. Surgery has been both a non-issue and profound beyond anything I had imagined. It’s brought my femaleness to a legally recognized status; it’s made my mom say: “she’s all woman now;” it’s made an important person in my life describe having completed surgery as demonstrating “commitment” to my transition; it’s made people that I thought saw me ‘completely’ as a woman before change how they’ve been treating me (seriously); and much, much more. It’s changed how I view myself as well; I am more peaceful in my own mind than I ever remember being [I still have drama, of course, but even the worst of the drama seems so much more manageable than it did before surgery]. This, finally, truly is the life I was meant to live all along.

   And then, a few weeks after I got home from surgery, a friend asked me if I’m still “transgender.” And I responded that I didn’t know. It got me really thinking about labels and how I define myself, and what defines me, and how others define me. Again, stuff I’m usually smart enough to avoid with a ten-foot pole.

   I’ll stipulate that deep down I don’t really care about labels. I’m pretty much just Penny, and I like it that way. When I announced my transition to one of the other drum teachers where I work he said, “I hope it’s okay if I still think of you as a drummer first.” And I was like, “Well, d’uh.”  🙂  So, I’m just me. And I drum. And yet, labels obviously matter on some level, and they matter to some people more than others. And some people like to attack each other based on their real or perceived labels. That’s the part that’s the hardest for me, honestly. When this stuff is all neat theory it can be almost fun and interesting, but when people start hitting each other with sticks because of it, it becomes much less good.

   Anyway, onward into the breach…

   So, am I still “transgender?”

   I don’t think I am. At this point I’m not ~certain~ that I ever was. “Transgender” is, in shorthand, the state of having one’s sense of self not match one’s assigned gender; basically, the brain says “woman” [or “man”], and the crotch has a penis [or vagina]. Well, see, the thing is, that now my brain says “woman,” and my crotch has a vagina. I match. I’m legally and physically female, which is what I’ve known myself to be for quite some time. “Transgender” just doesn’t feel like it describes me in anyway anymore, if it ever did. There’s nothing “trans” there. “Transgender” seems to be best applied to people who are in a state of flux, either temporarily or permanently; drag queens, people who crossdress; genderqueer folks; androgynes; and others. The other thing is the “gender” in there; my “gender” never trans’ed anything; I have always been female – albeit a very confused female for quite some time, but a female none the less. 

   So, how about “transsexual?” Am I still “transsexual?”

   This one is fuzzier for me. “Transsexual” still, to me, seems to imply that there is work to be done, a change to be made. I’ve done a bunch of reading in the last few years and the last few weeks, and I guess I’ve become the type of woman that I used to find infuriating; I see transsexualism as a physical condition of my birth that my surgery, for lack of a better word for it, cured. A friend and I were speaking earlier today, and he brought up the “pre-op” and “post-op” prefixes that get applied to “transsexual” to reflect a person either being before or after surgery. I confess that I have sometimes given in to the expedience that the term “transsexual” affords; most people have some idea of what a “post-operative transsexual woman” is; or at least they think they do. But I am not “a transsexual.” It is not my identity; it is a condition I suffered from. Just as needing my gallbladder removed fifteen years ago didn’t make me a “cholecystectomist” [yes, I totally made up a word to prove a point], being born with a penis instead of a vagina doesn’t make me a “transsexual.” I think this is why I have gravitated toward the phrase “woman of transsexual history.” Clearly, I can not, nor would I ever try to, escape my history, but it’s just that: history. I recently found the phrase “woman born transsexual,” and I think I like that even better. There are some women who refer to it as “HBS” or “Harry Benjamin Syndrome,”  though it seems like the phrase has been largely used to bash GLB folks as well as transgender individuals and people with transexualism who don’t measure up. [This all gets ~really~ heated with the people to whom it matters, like, name-calling and everything – it makes me glad that I really don’t care most of the time.]

   Whatever. I’m a woman. Since surgery it’s been pretty clear that the world is even happier seeing me as a woman than it was before (imagine that, for all of everyone’s talk about “acceptance” and all that, for most people – even me, at some core level, it does seem like what I’ve got in my panties actually matters – who knew?). 

   I know there are some who include “transsexual” in the “transgender umbrella,” and I have mixed feelings about that. Not surprisingly, before surgery I was much happier to include myself under the umbrella. I know that there is strength in numbers, and I’ve always been very Rodney King in my desire for everyone to just get along, but I also know that most “transgender” people that I meet don’t remind me of me; many people that identify as “pre-op transsexuals” don’t really remind me of me either, fwiw, though some do. This is the point where it seems like the most vitriol gets spilled. I have no interest in identifying or defining anyone else; likewise, I need no one else’s story to validate my own. My life’s been plenty crazy on its own, thanks. So, I try to take it in stride when others describe me with the best terms they have in their vocabularies, though I do try to correct them when appropriate if they err. I am not now, nor was I ever, given my understanding of the term, “transgender.” I am not “a transsexual;” I suffered from transsexualism. I will correct people about this, but I probably won’t become truly angry when people make mistakes, unintentional or not – though I do get frustrated.

   So, why the hell do I talk so much about all this stuff then? Why, if I identify as a woman, and see my battles as largely behind me, did I document my surgery and recovery in such detail? Well, for one thing, my boyfriend crossdresses, so I’m sort a part of the transgender extended family by being a partner at this point. It was several months before surgery that I said that I considered him more transgendered than me, which now makes all sorts of sense. More importtantly, though, I remember the pain, confusion, fear, and self-loathing that I lived through. I know there are tons of resources both online and not at this point for other women born with the wrong genitals, but if my voice helps even one person to find their path it will have been well worth it. Also, I have no intetnion of giving up all the connections and love that I garnered in the before time; most of my world knows of my history, and they all see it as just that: history. I have nothing to hide. Usually I talk too much, as a matter of fact.  🙂  [It all started when I was very little, and my mom would say, “Now, don’t tell anyone that your father and I were never married.” And I would meet people, and the first thing I would say was, ” Hi, my parents were never married.” I’ve always been a ~wide~ open book!]

   Speaking of self-loathing, I’ve noticed that having friends who are struggling with their own path through discerning whether they really are suffering from transsexualism or something else means that even though I have put my own self-loathing to bed, I have to deal with other folks who are still buried under their own belief that they are somehow horribly damaged. And their self-hate makes waves. Just recently I dealt with a friend who is discerning her trans-status agreeing with another friend that we, she and I, “aren’t normal.” You know what? Screw that. I’m normal. I’m more normal than most people I know, actually. I found it painful to sit there and have my friend’s self-hate bleed onto to me as she tried to defend the position. She can be “not normal” if she wants to be, but I’m normal. Period. It reminded me of a point a few years ago when my therapist remarked that it had been months since I had referred to myself as a “freak.” It marked a huge turning point for me, and I refuse to go back there just to make my friend feel less alone. I admit freely that transsexualism isn’t that common, but it’s no less normal than lots of things. I could go on a tear about every single person I know and explain in great detail why they aren’t “normal,” but that’s kind of my point: no one is “all normal.” [I have a whole rant on the word and philosophy of “normal,” but this is already too long, so it’ll keep.] 

   So, what the hell am I? Where did this get me? I think I reaffirmed my distaste for labels generally. I’m Penny. I drum. I teach. I love Tim. Oh yeah, I’m a woman. I’m Swedish. I believe in God. I had my gallbladder out. I love my mom. I was born with the wrong crotch, which has been surgically corrected. I was married and am divorced. I lived with my Gram before she died. My stepfather and I don’t get along that well. I went to an all-boys Catholic High School. I have a ton of friends whom I love. I’m ~such~ a Bostonian. I’m a geek, goofball, and cutie-pie. I’m tall. I have some pink in my hair.

   What the hell label you gonna put on that?

🙂

So, um, IT WORKS! ;-)

So, um, well, I had my first post-surgical orgasm the other day. Hooray, the “feeling good bits” work.  😉  I had just been getting really worried about whether things were healing okay about a week earlier, too, so the timing was great. I still have quite a bit of numbness, enough that just a few days ago I burst into tears after touching my clitoris and not being able to feel anything.

After finding my clit so numb, I decided to focus on what sensations I ~could~ feel, as there were plenty of good feeling spots down there. There were a couple days that I got right to the edge only to completely lose it. I think the fact that I was unsure about whether I would be able to at this point in my healing (or, honestly, ever) contributed to my difficulties in going over the edge.

A couple days ago, though, before dilating I felt pretty aroused. It’d been four months since my last orgasm (so, two months before surgery), to say I was ~wired~ would be an understatement; I figured I’d cum if a strong wind blew. So after I dilated I decided to give it a try, and in not too long I found myself on the edge yet again…

…and then I went over…

…and over…

…and over…

I’m not known for being quiet when I have an orgasm; I’ve been teased because I’m so loud, actually. I sort of suspected that if/when I figured out how to have an orgasm with my new body that it would be an intense and loud one even by my standards, both because it had been so long and I was going to be releasing lots of pent-up stress, and also out of shear joy that my new body “works.” Well, even I was unprepared for the ferocity of this orgasm; I was screaming at the top of my lungs for what seemed like five minutes; I could not have stopped screaming if I tried. It was incredible. And then I giggled for about ten minutes. Out of silliness. Out of relief. Out of pure joy.

Interestingly, my orgasm “style” had changed so much since I started taking hormones that the orgasm felt very similar to the ones I was having before surgery. The stereotype that “male” orgasms are more sharp and “pokey” (d’uh), while “female” orgasms are more full-body and “smoother” seems pretty accurate. Though, like I said, for the most part my orgasms had changed even while I still had the “boy parts.” The body is weird.

YAY!

Six-Week 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.]

   Wow, it was six weeks ago today that I had my SRS in Trinidad, Colorado. Like any other big change in my life, in some ways it seems like just yesterday, and in some ways it seems like a million years ago. Recovering from any surgery has ups and downs, and this has been no different. I can see so much improvement, and I can see so much distance for me to travel until I’m “fully” recovered. I’ve been told by more than one person that I will still be healing after 12 months; from my past experience with my gallbladder surgery, I’d bet that’s pretty accurate.

   To give some physical details, the swelling, especially on my left labia (which was the one that was as “big as my head” right after surgery), has gone down tremendously. There is still some swelling, but there is much less. The suture line that had opened up finally seems to have solidified a bit and within the last couple days has stopped bleeding; that’s really great news. The little stabs of pain have diminished to the point of barely happening at all. I’m still a little tender and stiff, but most of my mobility seems to have returned. I have definitely lost some of my endurance and regained some weight due to my lack of activity during my recovery; I hope to start working on reversing that trend next week. My clitoris still seems pretty numb, and the left side of my clitoral hood is completely numb; this is, from what I’ve been told, not completely atypical.

   I always worry that these blogs get pretty graphic, but I’m just reporting things I’m noticing. 

   I noticed some “string” hanging out of a few different parts last week; I guess some stitches are finally working their way out. When I was dilating a few days ago I finally stuck a finger inside myself (yea, it took me almost six weeks before I felt comfortable exploring in there); I was amazed how much it felt like any other pussy’s insides (not that I’ve had my hand inside millions of them, or anything, but I’ve felt a few, and mine felt just like any other; that’s pretty damned cool).

   One of the things I remain most surprised by is how good it feels to wear clothing that is tight in the crotch. Before surgery I had envisioned wearing lots of loose-fitting skirts and the like when I returned home, instead, tight jeans have been by far the most comfortable; they seem to offer support for my swollen parts.

   As my body continues on its healing way, I can’t even scratch the surface of how happy I am. It’s funny how many little things make me smile; it seems everyday I notice some other thing that I had never even considered that’s changed since surgery, even if it’s only changed in my mind. I tried so hard to keep my expectations low going in to surgery so I wouldn’t expect miracles, but this truly has had a miraculous impact on me and my life; everything’s the same, but everything is completely different.

   Here’s to the difference!

   🙂

God’s Dream

   A few months ago the person offering the reflection at the Crossing posed the question: “What is God’s dream for you?”

   I’ve had that question floating around in my head ever since then. I don’t think I have a definitive answer, or anything, but I have thought about it enough to at least write some of it down. I consider my relationship with the divine as much more intuitive than a direct question and answer line. How can I really know the mind of God? How can I have any real idea what God envisions for me? 

   The best I feel I can do is try to gather signs from the world around me, use the faith that I was raised with, and my own sense of intuition to divine what the divine has in mind as my dream existence. When I examine the last five years of my life, I find too many coincidences; I believe the hand of God was very active in my life. I’ve often said that part of the reason I transitioned was that I finally gave up and stopped fighting against the obvious reality of my life – the fact the I am a woman, born with the wrong parts, became too strong to fight any longer; another way for me to look at that is that I finally gave in and accepted God’s dream for me.

   I struggled with my faith for most of my life. I was raised in a very traditional Lutheran congregation. I went to Catholic high school. I had perfect attendance for twelve years of Sunday School. I became Born Again when I was 18. I dabbled with Buddhism. I searched and searched and searched for something real to connect with; some part of God that felt like it was reaching back for me. But I couldn’t find anything. I learned the moral lessons as best I could, but that sense that I was connected to the divine always seemed like a leap of faith I just could not complete no matter how I tried.

   And then I stopped trying. I’d say I gave up looking for God in my life by the time I was 24 or so. I think being transgendered strongly impacted my spiritual journey; how could it not? I was such a shattered identity at that point in my life; living one existence on the outside, but keeping so much hidden, so much bottled up. I lived with so much self-loathing; I knew I was broken and worthless. If there was a God then God certainly cared very little for me, how could any but the most sadistic of Gods create a person with such a tragic flaw as being born into the wrong body?

   I lived in this state for a long time; stuck thinking that the best I could do was bury every feeling of my true self beneath a “normal” life, stuck thinking that either God didn’t exist or was callously ambivalent toward my situation. As I said in a reflection that I once gave, I was pretty bitter.

   And then I gave up fighting. I gave up trying to be something I wasn’t. I gave up resisting the obvious path that I was being called to follow, no matter how hard that path appeared. And a funny thing happened: I started noticing God in my life. It hadn’t occured to me at the time, but once I stopped fighting everything ~including God~, God was suddenly there for me.

   It was small at first; I was groomed. There was teaching a drum line in a church; there was the Episcopal priest who, when told of my impending gender change said: “If there’s anything we can do support you, just let us know;” there was the friend who gently spoke with me of her spiritual journey and my own; there was drumming in church; there was the night my Gram died, when I ~most definitely~ felt her spirit touch me and leave me some of her strength; there was The Crossing; there was the call to preach; there was the support and celebration of me being myself by the most spiritual and religious people I knew; there was the prayer circle and blessing before I left for Colorado for my SRS. God was patient working her way back into my life; I never would have been ready for a blinding revelation five years ago, but with the last five years that I have lived, it would be impossible for me to not believe that God has been most active in my life.

   And so, even though I know this will be a changing answer and a changing equation, when I think of what God’s dream for me is and will be, I see a continued acceptance of self, I see a call to make the world a better place for transgender people, I feel drawn to raise a family, and of course to continue drumming in such a way that connects me to the divine stronger than anything else. When I think of where I am and where I’ve been, I’d like to think that God is proud of me; proud of the strength I have exhibited in the last five years; proud of the person I have become. Of course, the test now is to continue to make God proud of me, the journey gets no easier just because I hope I have done good.  🙂  The most important part of what I imagine of God’s dream for me to be is that I trust; I have always been obstinate and contrary, I need to trust my senses that I don’t need to fight truth.

   One of my most consistent prayers is that I hope I am living up, in some small way, to God’s dream for me. It’s sort of, by its very nature, an unknowable truth – I must simply strive to fulfill God’s dream for me as best I can. I certainly try to, and I will continue that hope and prayer and effort.

   ~amen~

Sinking In…

I have a vagina.

I have a vagina.

I.

Have.

A.

Vagina.

It’s been three weeks since ~the surgery~ that transformed my body into what it should have been all along. It’s gradually sinking in that I have the correct parts. Having spent 38 years with parts that were just wrong was exhausting. One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed since surgery is that the noise in my brain is gone; there was always a gnawing, nagging awareness deep down in my soul that something was very wrong; it has just evaporated. It’s been interesting getting used to this feeling. I can’t think of an analogy that feels right; I just feel ~right~, calm and peaceful in a way that I never have before.

Before surgery I tried to keep everything in perspective; I knew that surgery in and of itself doesn’t really change your life. And yet it seems like if anything I underestimated the importance of surgery. Now that I’m on the other side it’s surprising how different I feel. I look at my body and I can just smile. The change is more profound and inexplicable than I could have imagined. How many different ways can I say that having the correct body feels amazing? And the interesting thing has been that having a vagina feels wonderful, but ~not~ having a penis feels equally good. Yay.

As far as healing, it goes well. The swelling has gone down gradually, though my left labia remains larger than the right. The suture line that opened on my left labia seems to be healing from the inside out, which is pretty much what I expected it to do; there is very little blood or discharge. My clitoral area is still very numb, but seems to be healing well. Dilating is easy but boring and takes forever (my therapist joked that I’m making up for all the tampons I never had to use – ha!). Overall, considering that surgery was almost exactly three weeks ago, I think I’m more healed than I expected to be at this point.

I have a vagina.

Wow.

I had to work really hard to get here, but I was right: having the correct crotch is something truly special.

I.have.a.vagina.

Hooray!

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