There are women of color and there are disabled women; there are lesbians and there are women of faith; there are mothers and there are servicewomen; there are women veterans and bisexual women — and that’s hardly an exhaustive list of the subcategories of women. Women’s experience intersects with multiple labels and multiple identities; each woman’s experience is complex, and not solely described within the confines of the “female” and “woman” found within western society’s binary sex and gender norms.
In the past handful of years, I’ve come to understand that the trans in the phrase “trans woman” is descriptor for a kind of women in the same way that “disabled” and “African-American” are descriptors of kinds of women in the phrases “disabled woman” and “African-American woman.”
And I am a trans woman. As a trans woman — as a transsexual — I’ve been taking hormones and androgen blockers for over 8-years as appropriate treatment for my medical condition. This is in accordance with the Harry Benjamin Standards Of Care (HBSOC).
Well, I’m going in for one of the genital reconstruction surgeries for transsexuals; I’m heading up to Lake Oswego, Oregon for a bilateral orchiectomy. (In the trans world, a bilateral orchiectomy is often simply referred to as an “orchi.”) For male-to-female transsexuals, a bilateral orchidectomy is a form of genital reconstruction surgery that’s less invasive surgery than a vaginoplasty. But unlike a vaginoplasty, a bilateral orchiectomy doesn’t construct a vaginal canal and its mucous membrane.
I know that for most men I know, the idea of any form of genital reconstruction surgery for themselves is a cringe moment. I’m not a man though, and an orchidectomy will be a relief for me. In having the surgery I’ll not only remove the primary source of testosterone and other androgens in my body, but it’ll also allow me to change my California birth certificate to state that I’m female. From there, all of my identifications — from my Social Security records to my Department of Defense retirement pay records — will be able to be changed from male to female.
Since I socially began transition in February of 2003, I embraced the idea that one shouldn’t transition any more than one needs to be comfortable within one’s own skin. Frankly, I’m no longer comfortable in my own skin — especially from that documentation perspective. I want goverment to recognize me as female.
For me, I have personal concerns about having a vaginoplasty. For one, a vaginoplasty is an invasive, serious bit of surgery. It took me about two years to fully recover from my gastric bypass in February of 2008, so I’m a bit concerned about how I would experience recovery from a vaginoplasty.
And then there’s always that reality of when a trans woman has a vaginoplasty, she’s trading her low maintenance genitalia for higher maintenance genitalia. For those who aren’t aware, a vaginoplasty requires a considerable amount of maintenance in the first year after surgery in the form of vaginal dilation multiple times a day.
I’m concerned about the higher maintenance aspect of a vaginoplasty due to my bipolar condition; my bipolar condition is the main factor in my decision making process on which surgery I’m opting for.
Basically, I’m already not always compliant with my medication and treatment regimens for all of my health conditions — not because I’m intentionally incompliant, but because when I feel the effects of bipolar depression or hypomania, I sometimes become forgetful; I sometimes lose track of time; I sometimes loose my ability to focus for significant periods of time. Although I’m sure I’d be compliant with the dilation regimen for the first few months after surgery, I’m not confident that I’d follow through with dilation as frequently as I should due to how far my bipolar condition has progressed in the past few years.
If I’d have had a vaginoplasty five or six years ago, during a time I couldn’t have afforded a vaginoplasty…well, my bipolar condition was not as progressed as it is now. It seems to me that a few years ago I’d have likely been able to be compliant regarding dilation regimen during that first year after surgery, as compared to now when I have to question whether I’d be able to be fully compliant.
So even though it is less expensive to have an orchi than it is to have a vaginoplasty, that’s actually not why I’m having an orchi. It’s those other considerations — especially my bipolar condition — that are guiding my decision on which genital reconstruction surgery I’m going to have.
My surgery is scheduled for August 17th, and it’s going to be accomplished by Dr. Tuan Nguyen. One of the two letters from mental health professionals required for the surgery per the HBSOC has already been submitted to Dr. Nguyen; the second letter should be sent in from my second mental health professional by early this coming week. I’ve already paid for the surgery and arranged transportation up to Lake Oswego — all there’s really left to do is arrange for a hotel room for the couple of nights I’ll be there in Oregon.
There are women of color and there are disabled women; there are lesbians and there are women of faith; there are mothers and there are servicewomen; there are women veterans and bisexual women — I’m a disabled woman, a woman veteran, and I’m a trans woman.
Where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing on August 17th has to do with me being a trans woman. It should be an interesting day, for sure.