Sunday, February 28, 2010

Me and My Vagina, Special Anniversary Edition: Part II of an Infinitely Reductive Series

Today is the anniversary of my surgery. In fact, as I type this now, I am about a year removed from my first full day of having a vagina--Thailand being twelve hours ahead of my local time, and the six or more hours of my surgery having started at noon Bangkok time. (I don't remember how long the surgery lasted, as I slept through it and for a long time afterwards, only waking up for a brief moment to say goodnight to my significant other of variable and often fabulous gender.)

In fact, there's almost a week of time that I have very little recollection of--the five days I had to stay immobile in bed, according to my surgeon's regimen. Not everyone does this; had I gone to the Canadian surgeon I first considered, I'd have been up and walking around after about a day or so. Everybody does things differently. But I'm somewhat glad for being immobile; during that five days I only moved once, and that was because I'd thrown up on myself the first day after my surgery--juice boxes and opiates don't agree all that well. The only way to get me clean sheets was to move me to an entirely new bed. Which meant I had to crab walk over to it. Now, even under normal circumstances, that would be both uncomfortable and ungraceful; but I had to not only contend with the pain from my brand-new down there, with the attendant catheter and surgical drains, but since I'd also opted to have my boobs done at the same time, I could barely move my arms; the surgeon went in under my armpits, and to be honest that pain was more omnipresent and inconveniencing than the other.

But other than that, and my SOOVAOFG saying goodbye to me to fly home--we'd spent ten days together bumping around India and Cambodia prior to my surgery, and vacation time is precious nowadays--I really don't remember much. I slept a lot; I was too out of it to even watch TV. Every so often, they'd bring me a thick creamy soup and some juice boxes to eat and drink. I rarely ate the soup, but I drank the juice. (As an aside, Thai sweets of all kinds tend to be sweeter than American sweets--probably because they use real sugar.) I've come to realize that it wasn't so much that I was drugged out of my head--Thais don't practice American pain management, and I didn't even have a morphine drip--but because nothing changed. There was me; my bed; my room with the blinds drawn; and the occasional ministrations of kind Thai nurses who spoke little English. (My Thai was suspect at its best and no match for my pain and grogginess.)

But eventually they packed me up and sent me home, after giving me a huge, cumbersome, old-fashioned bra. It was trimmed with lace and looked like something from the "18-hour bra" commercials I'd seen as a kid. And then I was dumped back in my hotel room, just me and my catheter bag--they didn't take the catheter out until the next day, which was a little scary and gross. On the other hand, it was pretty convenient for lying in bed and drinking stuff, which was about all I was up for.

But it's surprising how quickly you can heal. I was moving around the hotel room that, night, had enough energy to make breakfast the next day, and even hosted a pizza party for some of the other patients of my surgeon a day or so after that. (We had a couple of these affairs. They were interesting; we'd have a great time for about an hour, and then everyone would be in too much pain to continue. But they were fun while they lasted.)

That was all a year ago.

Things have changed. For one thing, I now only have to dilate once a day for about 30 minutes. That will mean I can actually get up at the same time but still get to work earlier, which will help me have more time and energy to write in the evening. I've had sex, by which I mean--this being America and all--PIV sex, so now I know how much I've been missing. My recovery has been remarkably hassle free, even with the UTI I developed a month after getting home.

There's more, of course, much more. But how can I put it all in words? There are days when I forget that I never had a vagina, and there are days when I forget for a second that I do. There are many days when I am astonished by the miracle of it all, and many more days when I simply take it for granted. And most of all, I feel like what I am supposed to be. I feel like a woman.

And I felt that way before. I am not going to play pussy politics with you and engage in zero-sum games about the proper anatomy a woman needs. It's reductive, and cruel, and ignores the economic reality of far too many trans women.

But there's no question that I like myself better this way, that I feel a peace with my body I never felt before. That I had to wound myself to heal.

Not that I'm completely healed. None of us, I suppose, ever really can be--and I'm not just talking about trans people. If we measure lives by ideals, then we're all a little broken, all in need of some kind of healing. And I've come so very far.

But there are still times when I resent that passage; when I resent all the things that were taken from me, all the things that I never had--even the bad things, even the things that in a sense I was fortunate enough to miss: if I feel the omnipresent judgment of every damn TV commercial on how I should look, act, think, and feel simply because of my gender, can I really long to have had that drummed into my head from the moment it poked into our world? Do I really feel sorry for myself for not having spent three and a half decades as a victim of sexism?

No. Not really. But I do regret the necessity of it all, the long slow struggle to find out who I am, the summoning up of awful reserves of energy just to survive each day, and then the ultimate effort to make myself into the person I desperately needed to be. And so I regret that passage; but I am grateful, oh so very grateful, to have survived it.

And you could say, maybe, that my vagina is a symbol of that: a physical manifestation of not just my womanhood, but my struggle to achieve that womanhood, a signpost showing how far I've come and how much I had to undergo to reach it. I suppose that would be fine; I'd hardly be the first woman to eulogize my vagina, and I doubt I'll be the last, cis or trans.

But I don't really do that much. Because most of the time it's just a vagina. And believe me, that is more than enough. In fact, it's perfect.


  1. I wish I could speak so openly of my vag surgery. Mine was relatively "Minor" in comparison, so why can't I talk about it outside of support groups?

    Blah make it all about me.

  2. And the last word got cut off because I can use a mobile device not good. Last word was "Sorry." because I know I don't really know.

  3. Thank you so much for this and all your writing. Today I read archives of Tiger Beatdown and followed Sady's link to Me and My Vagina: Part I. Such a gorgeously brilliant post written from a place of painful honesty and insight. When I added you to my RSS feeds I found this, Part II.

    Happy Anniversary, C.L., from an infinitely grateful and newly devoted follower.

  4. Happy anniversary, C.L. You've written so beautifully!

    When you say "Because most of the time it's just a vagina. And believe me, that is more than enough. In fact, it's perfect.", you encapsulate the whole point oh so well!

  5. Happy Anniversary, C.L.

  6. Followed the link over from Shakesville- thanks for sharing your experience in such a beautiful way. Happy anniversary, and many more!

  7. Happy anniversary, C.L.! Glad to hear your "aftermarket" one is making you as happy as my "factory installed" one makes me!

  8. happy anniversary, C.L. It's very hard to believe that it's been a whole year for you (or 8 months for me, for that matter -- not that mine is "perfect" by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm still very happy to have it.)


  9. This was a lovely post. My surgery was just about a year ago as well, with Marci Bowers in Colorado. So much of what you've said rings true for me as well; I often forget that there was a time that I didn't have a vagina, and I have trouble remembering exactly what my body was like before. And now it's certainly more than enough.


    Happy anniversary!

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