My Male to Female Surgery Experience

Now that I have finally had by surgery, as an M2F individual, I felt I should share about my experience undergoing the vaginoplasty procedure. This is essentially a run through with regards to my surgery and post-op care at the Charring Cross NHS hospital. I had found that what surgeons and other medical staff told me didn’t fully cover what I was to experience, so I hope that this will illuminate others as to what to expect.

So to put it simply, and something I can’t stress enough: follow the surgeons advice carefully—although that should really go without saying. Research the procedure, thoroughly, if you haven’t already; online or any other documentation you can find that is from a legitimate source (i.e. NHS, etc.). The vaginoplasty is an extensive and delicate surgery, so your decision should NOT be taken lightly. As with all surgeries, particularly those under general anaesthetic, there are risks; and these will be explained to you by the surgeons and GIC physicians. So I’ll say again: pay careful attention to what they tell you.

On the day before my surgery I was admitted to hospital and subsequently taken to the ward in which I would remain while recovering. If this is on the NHS, and not private, chances are you will be in a room with other people. In my case they put me in with two other M2Fs individuals, who were also undergoing the same procedure. This is obviously for convenience, as the nursing staff will all know why your all there and they can all look after you collectively. At Charring Cross, where I had my surgery, the nursing staff were all understanding and pleasant, treating me with respect and compassion. I obviously can’t say the same with regards to other hospitals but I hope that this is the case for the others. The day I was admitted I was shown to the ward where I would spend my time recovering. The next day I was taken to the surgery ward and before I was anaesthetized given a quick brief of what was going to happen, then asked to confirm the surgery I was going to have. Because of the surgery I was ‘Nil by mouth’, which is essentially no eating food or drink, other than water. I should point out that the hospital food there isn’t that brilliant—it is free however, and there is a menu to choose from—so if you can, have some brought in prior to your admittance or by family or friends. Something a bit more palatable to keep you going after the surgery and your recovery in the ward.

Following surgery, I awoke groggy and uncomfortable, with the pain that there was, which is understandable. With so few positions I could manoeuvre into, getting comfortable and falling to sleep became rather awkward. I knew that it was going to be painful and it was just about manageable, with morphine and other painkillers, but I had underestimated just how galling the experience would be. Additionally, there was also a lot of blood post-operation, which required constant cleaning and bandage changes by the nurses. So if your squeamish of the red stuff, you might want to advert your gaze while they change your gauze. Any extensive surgery will be fraught with pain, and obviously it will vary based on your individual tolerance and the skill and success of the surgeon and surgery, respectively. I had found that for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to do anything other than try to take my mind of the discomfort. Having my tablet, with connection to the free wi-fi available, certainly helped. My suggestion is to find something, anything, to take your mind off the discomfort. So bring an MP3 player, a few books etc., anything to keep your mind busy. Also, beware that while the nerve endings in the area heal you will get the occasional stinging sensation or twang of pain out of nowhere. Fortunately, in time this will fade.

The most painful aspect of the procedure was having the fluid drains removed two days after—these are two tubes in your lower abdomen that remove excess internal blood. Even with the morphine it was unbearably painfully. It got to the point that my body went into minor shock. Not to put you off or anything, just be aware of what will come. You also have the issue of the catheter, which is what removes urine from your bladder, because you won’t be able to use the facilities until the bandages and ‘packing’ is removed and you are able to finally get out of bed. The catheter removal is also unpleasant, but obviously required and so to is the ‘packing’, although not quite as painful as the former two. The ‘packing’ is essentially bandages they use to keep your vagina’s depth for the first week. The depth of your vagina is based on the material the surgeons have to work with, so if you have a small penis, then your vagina will, naturally, have less depth. Both are removed on the last two days of your admittance and you are expected to be able to urinate before you are discharged, which is to ensure that you won’t have any problems afterwards.

After the packing was removed, it was time to start dilating. This requires the lubrication of a one to two glass vaginal dilators, to be inserted into your new vagina, as deep as possible. It will be painful initially but it will become less so over time. The more frequently you keep dilating initially the easier it will be months later. So focusing on the first three months in particular should be your main concern, as this is the stage that matters most. Both vaginal dilators are around 7” in length, one is wider in diameter than the other. Dilating is three times a day for the first two-three months; about every eight hours should do, in accordance to your schedule. Then it’s two times a day after 2 months, skipping the middle session; so roughly every 12 hours. Around 6 to 9 months post surgery you should be able to dilate only 1-2 times per week. You continue this indefinitely or up until you get to the point you can’t be bothered any more and are content with losing depth. The entire process can take around 15 to 20 minutes per session, so make sure that you have that time set aside to keep up dilating without interruption; starting with the small one for 5-10 minutes then proceeding to use the larger one for the remaining time; ensuring both are adequately lubricated before use. Again, dilating will be discussed with you prior to the surgery and when you first dilate the nurses will talk you through it. There are also replacements available online, and in different sizes, should you need to replace a lost or broken dilator. They are only small and made of glass or perspex, and so not indestructible.

For the lubricant you will be supplied some for the first few weeks, but you will have to procure your own from a chemist or order online thereafter. Any lubricant intended for sexual aid will do, e.g. KY Jelly. Cheaper brands can cost between £5 – 7 per tube and each 50ml tube lasts for a good couple of weeks, even when used liberally. It will also be usefully later should you wish to be intimate with a partner—after the appropriate amount of healing permits, of course. Sex is suggested after 3 months, but I would suggest waiting a few months longer. And dilate before hand, otherwise you may find the experience painful. Be sure to discuss this with your partner, to prevent them from hurting you. Be gentle and slow. And as I said, the use of lubrication can be messy. So keep a healthy supply of wet wipes, to keep the vaginal dilators and yourself clean afterwards.

Hygiene will be very important within the few few months. Because you wounds are still fresh and you will be prone to infections. Keep clean as much as possible with regular showers. The ward I was on had a walk in shower, which was rather difficult to try and manoeuvre into, as at the time I still had my catheter in. Try not to use soap or harshly with a sponge on the vagina area, as this will aggravate the wounds. If you do get an infection seek a GP immediately, they may proscribe you antibiotics to help fight the infection. Always make sure your hands are clean, as well as the dilators. I chose to use an alcoholic anti-bacterial hand lotion, but be careful applying this around the healing wounds, as this can sting the vagina/labia area if you choose to use it there or get it on you accidentally. You will also be supplied with a douche. This is for inserting into your vagina to clean inside, and should be done so after each session, for roughly 6 weeks or for general personal hygiene thereafter. Use it with only clean water, no soap. Douches can usually be bought in chemists or online and are around £15, if you need a replacement.

Remember: most of this information will be explained to you before hand and you will be provided with all the information necessary to make an informed decision about your surgery.

Now that it is approximately six months after my surgery I can say that I am happy with the result. Despite the pain that is involved and the loops I had to go through just to get to this point. I am much more confident and outgoing now. I am less inclined to hide away because I was always self-conscious about what I was trying to hide, not to mention the fact that I hated the sight of it anyway, hence why I wanted the surgery to begin with. Sure it isn’t the same as a cis-gender woman’s vagina, and sure the constant dilating can be uncomfortable and a nuisance, but it is a small price to pay for being happier within my own body. Now that it looks and functions enough like one that I am content with living the rest of my. I can’t thank the NHS surgeons and support staff enough for their time and effort during my stay and all the physicians and support staff, who all treated me in the years prior.

If you feel I have left out a certain aspect of the surgery, something that you feel you want further insight into or would even like to share your experience, then please leave a comment.

All the best,

Laura Steel © 2016

The Impact of the Internet on my Life as a Transgender Person: Blogging and Creative Writing

Ever since the start of my transition there has always been one resource that I have always found myself relying upon time and time again, more than anything else that has been available, the Internet. Not a day goes by that I rarely have access to the web or even forego using it, unless I am otherwise engaged—although mobile devices can still keep the bridge the gap on the go, if you have the finance. As an established global entity, the Internet has been by far the best tool I use to assist myself in the various activities of my life, of which includes: shopping, gaming and the ability to socialise between family and friends. This wondrous digitised realm has become like a second home to me, with the almost infinite amount of websites available to browse from turning into an entirely whole new world to explore. To be cut off from this world, for even a brief moment, brings about a strong sense of withdrawal—one which that can be rather uncomfortable to bare at times.

Before I finally sought medical intervention for my gender dysphoria I had spent many hours searching for the causes of the severe anxiety I found myself with. I had an inclination for many years, since my early pre-adolescent years in fact. But this feeling wasn’t something I tried to confront fully because of the fear of being rejected by my family, should I reveal who I really was. I desperately searched for some form of officiated information that would allow me to understand the reason why I felt the way I did and what I could do to alleviate myself from it. My hope was that somewhere online there was the knowledge I so desperately sought after. So I used the Internet to search through online encyclopaedias and other websites, with their hordes of medical knowledge on gender dysphoria, transgender people and the process of transitioning—which I hoped were all accurate and reliable enough to inform my enough to better my understanding— and I would take to browsing every last link I could find on these subjects. While none of the contents on these websites have truly answered all my questions, with regards to discovering who I am as a person, they undeniably had given me a good base point in which to start my journey of self discovery. My absolute certainty of who I am was only achieved through prolonged and deep introspection. All of the information these websites have provided me with, however intentional, has been to an such an immense degree that I feel I will never be able to repay the help provided by their existence. They have not only given me such a better sense of who I am today but have allowed me to define myself much further as a person, regardless of my ‘trans’ identity.

One of the sub-sections that just happen to inhabit this digitised realm is the websites dedicated to blogging. When I first heard about these blogging sites, young and naive as I was to the use of the Internet, I did not care for their existence and I was rather unimpressed with the few I had inadvertently stumbled upon. I only really saw them as way for people to just be egotistical, boarder line narcissistic over, and who were only trying to fill a psychological need that wasn’t being met in their real lives; away from the computer screen. My perspective was that these individuals were only using their blogging sites as somewhere to just dump boring unintelligible information about themselves, in a vague attempt to justify their own existence. This was all in a narrow minded view that was previously only held before I had “come out” or even come to terms with who I was, and a view that I thankfully no longer hold.

However, having access to the blogs of transgenders, who have shared their own experiences, back in what was a time of immense depression and self-destructive hate for me, would truly become invaluable. I continually searched for any account of transgender individual’s experiences online because at the time I couldn’t even bring myself to talk about it to those I loved. Being that depressed had the unfortunate side effect of causing me to become so distant from my family that it took several years to tell them the truth. The increased desperation of trying to understand why I felt the way I did would further drive me to search for anything else there was to know about what being transgender means, into the processes of transitioning and even into the some of the surgeries; which involved the viewing of graphic photos and videos of them being performed. I especially looked for the written experiences by other transgenders believing that their first hand knowledge would be much more useful for me because it’s not as if any of it is taught in schools or freely handed out on pamphlets as you walk down the high street. While I have fully accepted and embraced who I am now, as have my family and friends thankfully, possessing the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in what I was going through was something I had taken an immense comfort from and I still do. I know the conclusion I have come to, of who I am as a person and who I am today, was aided by other transgender individuals and the experiences they had bravely shared on their blogs.

Overtime I started to understand that there was a clear difference between the different types of blogs and the contents they housed. As I grew older—and hopefully a little wiser—I slowly started to appreciate the impact they can have on their readers, which I know at the very least is true with regards to myself. I eventually learned that many of these people weren’t blogging because they were being self-obsessed or sought the attention of others for the sake of it but rather were people who, just like myself, wanted be seen, accepted and loved. To have a means to express themselves truly without any restriction and in a manner that is sure to be on some level therapeutic for them, which is something I have since found for myself after I creating my own. My hope was that when I had created my own blog it would afford me the same opportunity to express myself not just as a person but as a transgender too, which is something I can safely say for certain that it has. I feel like I no longer have to accept being cast into the shadows and left wallowing in self-pity, doomed to live a life of fear and repression, simply because of who I am but can start to express and embrace my life as an individual, let alone because I am transgender. As an added result I have found that I can not only express myself freely in this online realm but subsequently in the offline world too, which is something I am continually enjoying doing so. This was all because I had the luxury and privileged access to the Internet; access to which I no longer take for granted, as I once did.

It is for this reason I believe I have come to learn, love and embrace the creative aspect towards writing. One of my pass times since transitioning has come in the form of reading the creative works written by other people, in particular those written by fellow transgenders. Analysing their apparent structure and form of prose, such as: poems, flash fiction or short stories, and on their even deeper meaning. The best way I have been able to approach this has yet again been through having access to the blogs of other individual writers, via the Internet. Blogs and other forums such as social media sites on the web can give the opportunity for transgender writers to not only share links to their creative writings to be read and enjoyed. Geared up correctly and in the right way they can allow for comments and criticisms, that allow others, regardless of how they choose to define themselves, a means to improve their skills of writing, with help of their fellow transgender piers and from other members of community groups. This is also because just about any one, assuming they have Internet access, can find the required information on them, with the simple aid of a search engine or because of a social media site or two. The very fact that this essay has been written is evidence of this; as I would not have been aware of the opportunity to do so if I did not have access to the Internet or the dear friend who kindly shared the link for it across one of these sites to begin with.

An additional beneficial aspect of being able to post online is due to the fact that what ever has been written is left up to the pure discretion of the individuals who have written them. There are rarely any other intermediary people who could perhaps edit, abuse or otherwise get in the way of anything creatively written by anyone, least of all those written by transgenders. Transgenders who wish to take up the art of writing are freely able to express themselves, with the only limit being their own imagination and the confidence to post them. This can be accomplished even if they consciously choose or have to rely upon the use of a pseudonym or using an anonymous name coupled with an avatar of any suitable digital image. Even I have found it relatively easy to set up a website, despite not being an expert; from information that was once again obtained within the vastness of the Internet. The ease and quickness for additional entries into a website’s expandable content can all be done for a rather minor cost per month or even for free if your limited in budget and don’t mind the annoyance of the odd advertisement. Being able to have such an affordable forum, that little digitised haven to call my own, in which I can upload my own work or to do with as I please, is truly liberating. It imparts a strong sense of freedom and is something that would have to have it be prized from my cold dead fingers before I would ever choose to give it up willingly.

After all, to me creative writing is more than just a fancy collection of words, bound together to just paint a picture with vocabulary or project the imagery of fantastic characters, setting and theme; all presented in one of the various forms of prose, such as a short but potent poem or a rather long drawn out story. It has the ability to affect the senses of the readers and gives the ability to develop ideas from within the subtlety of the text regardless how it appears in a book, on a computer monitor or on the TV screen; just as long as it leaves that lasting impression on the mind of the reader. Whether it is about a transperson’s dramatic journey of self-discovery or an epic fantasy about a foxy heroine, who just happens to be transgender, brandishing her swords as she bravely fights off a ravenous monster. Creative writing may hopefully even go further towards inspiring people to reflect upon aspects of their lives and help further shape who they are and will become. I can only hope it will increase the amount of transgender literature, written by and for transpeople, as this can only work to increase our exposure in a broader and ideally better understanding. The Internet is an exceptional platform for self-expression and is capable of capturing a wide array of audiences, regardless of how they choose to define themselves.

Ultimately, the Internet’s existence continues to dominate my life, as well as the lives of others; either at home or on the move. Despite any of the negativity that it has been associated with the Internet, I know it has changed my life for the better, as I hope it has the same effect on others. Whether it’s socialising between family and friends, learning and researching new ideas, as one ploughs though website after website of information, or expressing one’s self via a blog or forum, with each and every upload. I know with out exaggerating that I would be fully amiss without the Internet, which is something I believe a lot of other people may be too even if they may not be fully aware of it themselves. Not just as a person trying to live my day to day life but especially because I am a transgender person with the freedom to express it; something which is achieved in the way I choose. So great is the power and liberation that the Internet can have.

Laura Steel © 2016